Volcano erupts in Pacific and West Coast under tsunami warning

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — An undersea volcano dramatically erupted near the peaceful nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large tsunami waves crashing onto shore and people rushing to higher ground. A tsunami advisory was in effect for Hawaii, Alaska and the Pacific coast of the United States, with reports of waves pushing boats into docks in Hawaii.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or extent of damage as all internet connectivity with Tonga was lost around 6:40 p.m. local time, about 10 minutes after the problems began, Doug Madory said, Director of Internet Analytics for the Network Intelligence Company. Kentik.

Tonga gets its internet via an undersea cable from Suva, Fiji, which has presumably been damaged. The company that operates this connection, Southern Cross Cable Network, could not immediately be reached for comment.

In Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves slamming onshore from half a meter (1.6 feet) at Nawiliwili, Kauai, to 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) at Hanalei. “We are relieved that no damage was reported and only minor flooding across all islands,” the center said, describing the situation in Hawaii.

In Tonga, home to around 105,000 people, video posted to social media showed large waves crashing into coastal areas, swirling around houses and buildings, including a church. Satellite images showed a huge eruption, a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a mushroom above the blue waters of the Pacific.

The New Zealand military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on standby, ready to help if asked.

The Tonga Meteorological Service said a tsunami warning had been declared for the entire archipelago and data from the Pacific Tsunami Center showed waves of 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) had been detected.

The explosion of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano was the latest in a series of spectacular eruptions.

A Twitter user identified as Dr Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted a video showing waves crashing on the shore.

“Can literally hear the eruption of the volcano, the sounds are quite violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post, “It’s raining ash and tiny pebbles, darkness covers the sky.”

In Hawaii, Alaska and along the U.S. Pacific Coast, residents were urged to move away from the coast to higher ground and heed specific instructions from their local emergency management officials, a said Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmier, Alaska.

The first waves to hit the continental United States were measured at around 30 centimeters (1 foot) in Nikolski, Atka and Adak, Alaska. The wave was about 20 centimeters (0.7 feet) in Monterey, California, the US National Tsunami Warning Center said in a tweet.

The National Weather Service said there were reports of waves pushing boats into Hawaii. Sea level fluctuations were also beginning in Alaska and California, according to the National Tsunami Warning Center.

Beaches and piers were closed in Southern California as a precaution, but the National Weather Service tweeted that there were “no major concerns about flooding”. However, strong rip currents were possible and officials warned people to stay out of the water.

Crowds gathered at Santa Cruz Harbor early Saturday to watch the water slowly rise and fall, straining the ties of boats at the docks. There was no obvious immediate damage. In 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a series of power surges cost the port $20 million in damage.

“We don’t issue reviews for this stretch of coastline like we did – I don’t know when the last time was – but it’s definitely not an everyday experience,” Snider said. “I hope this elevates the significance and severity for our citizens.”

He said the waves already lapping in Hawaii were just below the criteria for a more severe tsunami warning.

“The important thing here is that the first wave may not be the most important. We could see this play out for several hours,” he added. “It looks like everything will remain below alert level, but that’s hard to predict because it’s a volcanic eruption and we’re set up to measure earthquakes or seismic sea waves.”

Residents of American Samoa were alerted to the tsunami warning by local broadcasters as well as church bells ringing across the territory. An outdoor siren warning system was out of service. Those who lived along the shore quickly moved to higher ground.

As night fell, no damage was reported and the Hawaii-based tsunami center canceled the alert.

Authorities in the neighboring island nations of Fiji and Samoa have also issued warnings, telling people to avoid the shore due to strong currents and dangerous waves. The Japan Meteorological Agency said there could be some slight water swelling along the coast, but it shouldn’t cause any damage.

Tonga’s Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military evacuated King Tupou VI from his palace near the shore. He was one of many residents heading for the higher ground.

Earlier, the Matangi Tonga news site reported that scientists observed massive explosions, thunder and lightning near the volcano after it erupted early Friday. Satellite images showed a plume 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide rising into the air about 20 kilometers (12 miles).

More than 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) away in New Zealand, authorities warned of storm surges from the eruption.

The National Emergency Management Agency said parts of New Zealand could expect “unusual strong currents and unpredictable surges on shore following a large volcanic eruption”.

New Zealand’s private forecaster Weather Watch tweeted that people as far away as Southland, the country’s southernmost region, reported hearing sonic booms from the eruption. Others reported that many boats were damaged by a tsunami that hit a marina in Whangarei in the Northland region.

The volcano is located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of the capital, Nuku’alofa. In late 2014 and early 2015, a series of eruptions in the area created a new small island and disrupted international air travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days.

There is no significant difference between submarine and terrestrial volcanoes, and submarine volcanoes grow larger as they erupt, usually reaching the surface, said Hans Schwaiger, research geophysicist at the Volcano Observatory. from Alaska.

With submarine volcanoes, however, water can add to the explosiveness of the eruption as it hits lava, Schwaiger added.

Before an explosion, there is usually an increase in small local earthquakes on the volcano, but depending on its distance from land, this may not be felt by residents along the shoreline, Schwaiger said.

In 2019, Tonga lost internet access for almost two weeks when the same fiber optic cable was severed. The manager of the local cable company said at the time that a large ship may have cut the cable while dragging an anchor. Until limited satellite access was restored, people couldn’t even make international calls.

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Associated Press writers Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, Frank Bajak in Boston, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Fili Sagapolutele in Pago Pago, American Samoa, contributed to this report.

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