SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) – An undersea volcano erupted dramatically near the peaceful nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large tsunami waves crashing onto shore and triggering a rare tsunami warning for the north coast from California.
The National Weather Service issued the alert, tweeting – “A tsunami advisory has been issued for the west coast of the United States, including our region. Wave arrival time: approximately 7:35 a.m. this morning. A tsunami capable of strong currents dangerous to swimmers, boats and coastal structures are expected.
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Waves of 1 to 3 feet are possible.
The weather service has released the following estimated arrival times for the tsunami wave:
- Fort Bragg — 7:35 a.m.
- Monterey — 7:35 a.m.
- Crescent City—8:00 a.m.
- San Francisco — 8:10 a.m.
#Tsunami expect to reach #SanFrancisco around 8:10 this morning, which will correspond to #high tide for #SanFrancisco at 9:09 a.m. Expect low flooding and possible minor flooding, especially for areas such as #MarinHeadlands. #Cawx pic.twitter.com/PoR3WYZ13D
– NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) January 15, 2022
The Weather Service tweeted, “This is especially important for people who have just woken up and may not be checking the news or social media before heading out for their morning walk on the beach. Please consider calling loved ones if you know they are currently on the coast to inform them of the danger.
— CAL FIRE CZU (@CALFIRECZU) January 15, 2022
The Point Reyes and Monterey tide gauges are currently experiencing the first water disturbances from the oncoming tsunami. (see plots)
The tsunami will impact our coasts and bays for several hours, and the highest water levels may not arrive until hours after it begins. pic.twitter.com/AkbVSvqKfp
– NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) January 15, 2022
San Leandro police also issued a warning.
“Significant flooding is not expected at this time, but damaging wave activity could occur in ports and marina,” the warning read. “While large waves or significant flooding are not expected to occur in the area, we advise residents to avoid waterways until the advisory is lifted, as waves could still pose a hazard to boats and swimmers.”
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San Francisco emergency services officials also issued an alert.
“A tsunami advisory means strong and dangerous currents are expected to impact San Francisco beaches, harbor and marina docks, and piers in coastal areas,” the warning reads. “Dangerous currents are expected to begin at 8:10 a.m. and can last for several hours.”
The surge arrived in the Hawaiian Islands around 6 a.m.
“A tsunami is currently being observed by all island emergency management,” the weather service tweeted. “We are relieved that no damage was reported and minor flooding occurred across all islands.”
There were no immediate reports of injuries in Tonga or the extent of the damage, as communications with the small nation remained problematic. Video posted to social media showed large waves washing up in coastal areas, swirling around homes and buildings.
2022-01-14: (date correction) Large volcanic eruption near Tonga (Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Volcano) today seen from space. Shown on visible imagery using the Himawari satellite. #hiwx #tsunami #earthquake pic.twitter.com/Y18W7wvXl9
– NWS Honolulu (@NWS Honolulu) January 15, 2022
The New Zealand military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on standby, ready to help if asked.
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Satellite images showed a huge eruption, a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a mushroom above the blue waters of the Pacific.
Tonga’s meteorological service said a tsunami warning was in effect for the entire archipelago, and data from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center showed waves of 80 centimeters (2.6 feet) had been detected.
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 Japan’s coasts, but it shouldn’t cause any damage.
The Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military evacuated King Tupou VI of Tonga from his palace near the shore. He was one of many residents heading for the higher ground.
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.”
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”.
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.
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Tonga is home to approximately 105,000 people.