An underwater volcano in the South Pacific erupted Saturday with a stunning blast, sending tsunami waves onto nearby Tonga and to the north in Japan, with warnings of dangerous ocean surges issued as far away as the US West Coast.
Dramatic satellite images showed the long, rumbling eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai send a huge mushroom of smoke and ash into the air and a shockwave across the surrounding waters.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said tsunami reached that country’s Pacific coast, too, with waves as high as three meters (11 feet) possible.
People scrambled to higher ground on islands of Tonga, an archipelago. Local resident Mere Taufa said she was in her house getting ready for dinner when the undersea volcano erupted — sending water crashing into her home.
She said water filled their home minutes later and she saw the wall of a neighbouring house collapse.
“You could just hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to get to higher ground.”
The volcano’s eruption lasted at least eight minutes and sent plumes of gas, ash and smoke several kilometres into the air.
– ‘Keep away’ –
Its latest eruption was so intense it was heard as “loud thunder sounds” in Fiji more than 800 kilometres (500 miles) away, according to officials in Suva City — where images shared on social media showed large waves hitting the coast.
People in surrounding New South Wales state were “advised to get out of the water and move away from the immediate water’s edge”.
“A Tsunami is occurring. Remember: the first wave may not be that largest. Move away from the shore and head to high ground,” the US National Tsunami Warning Center wrote.
Canada issued a tsunami advisory for British Columbia province and urged people to stay away from beaches and marinas.
Victorina Kioa of the Tonga Public Service Commission said Friday that people should “keep away from areas of warning which are low-lying coastal areas, reefs and beaches”.