Volcano erupts near Tonga, islanders rush to escape waves

WELLINGTON – A submarine volcano spectacularly erupted near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large waves crashing over the coast and rushing people to higher ground.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of damage as communication with the small country remained problematic. Video posted to social media showed large waves washing up in coastal areas, swirling around homes and buildings.

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

Satellite images showed a massive eruption, a plume of ash, steam and gas trapped from space rising like a mushroom over the blue Pacific waters.

The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning was in effect for the entire archipelago, and data from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center showed waves measuring 80 centimeters (2.6 feet) had been detected.

Authorities in the nearby island states of Fiji and Samoa have also issued warnings and told people to avoid the coastline because of strong currents and dangerous waves. The Japan Meteorological Agency said there may be some slight swelling of the water along Japan’s coasts, but it is not expected to cause any damage.

The Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military troops had evacuated Tonga’s King Tupou VI from his palace near the coast. He was one of the many inhabitants who were on their way to higher areas.

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 of waves crashing ashore.

“Can literally hear the volcanic eruption, sounds quite violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “Raining ash and small pebbles, darkness covering the sky.”

Earlier, the Matangi Tonga news site reported that scientists observed massive explosions, thunder and lightning near the volcano after it began to erupt early on Friday. Satellite images showed a 5 kilometer wide plume rising in the sky to about 20 kilometers (12 miles).

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

The National Emergency Management Agency said some parts of New Zealand can expect “strong and unusual currents and unpredictable waves off the coast after a major volcanic eruption”.

Late Saturday, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the threat to American Samoa appeared to be over, although minor sea swings could continue.

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 small new island and disrupted international air traffic to the Pacific archipelago for several days.

Tonga is home to about 105,000 people.

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Source Volcano erupts near Tonga, islanders rush to escape waves

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