Tsunami warning in effect for US as waves hit Tonga after volcanic eruption
A tsunami warning has been issued for the Tonga Islands. Tsunami advisories have also been issued for the North Island of New Zealand and the west coast of the United States from California to Alaska, as well as for British Columbia in Canada.
Satellite imagery shows a massive ash cloud and shock waves spreading from the eruption.
Waves swept across the coastline of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, on Saturday, spilling onto coastal roads and inundating properties, according to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand (RNZ).
Tonga’s King Tupou VI was evacuated from the royal palace after the tsunami flooded the capital, RNZ reported, citing local media reports that a convoy of police and soldiers rushed the monarch to a villa in Mata Ki USA.
Residents headed for higher ground, RNZ said, as waves swept across the palace grounds, waterfront and main street.
Ash was falling from the sky in Nuku’alofa on Saturday evening and telephone connections were down, RNZ said.
The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano erupted on Friday, sending an ash plume 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) into the air, according to RNZ.
A second eruption struck at 5:26 p.m. local time on Saturday, RNZ reported.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said it recorded a 1.2 meter (about 4ft) tsunami wave near Nuku’alofa at 5.30pm local time on Saturday.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said 2.7-foot (83 cm) tsunami waves were observed by gauges in Nuku’alofa and 2-foot waves in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, Reuters reported. .
The volcano is located about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) southeast of the island of Fonuafo’ou in Tonga, according to RNZ, and about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Nuku’alofa.
In addition to the tsunami warning, the Tonga Meteorological Service issued advisories of heavy rain, flash flooding and high winds over land and coastal waters.
The neighboring island of Fiji has also issued a public advisory asking people living in low-lying coastal areas to “get to safety in anticipation of strong currents and dangerous waves”.
A tsunami watch is in effect for all low-lying coastal areas of Samoa, the Meteorological Service of Samoa said. “All people living in low-lying coastal areas are advised to stay away from beaches,” the agency said, and the public should refrain from visiting coastal areas.
Warning for the United States
Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator at the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, told CNN, “We saw the wave moving over the Hawaiian island.”
Current observations indicate that the wave is one to two feet high heading towards the mainland Pacific coast of the United States. Estimated time of arrival along the California coast is 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Pacific Time.
Speaking by phone, Snider noted, “We don’t have a very good forecast because this event is based on a volcano rather than an earthquake.”
Snider notes that this is currently an advisory and not a tsunami warning in effect for the west coast of the United States after the Tonga eruption.
Strong warnings from the National Weather Service Seattle were issued Saturday for the U.S. Pacific Coast. “Stay away from the beach and harbors and marinas in these areas,” NWS Seattle tweeted.
“Strong currents and larger waves are possible along these coastal areas. The first wave may not be the largest,” the agency continued.
“Continue to stay out of the water and away from shore along coastal areas and continue to monitor for updates.”
New Zealand on alert
A tsunami advisory has also been issued for coastal areas on the north and east coasts of New Zealand’s North Island and the Chatham Islands, where “unusual strong currents and unpredictable shoreline surges” are expected. , according to New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency. .
New Zealand’s official weather service said its weather stations across the country observed “a power surge” on Saturday night following the eruption.
Scientist Emily Lane, from New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research, told the New Zealand Science Media Center it was a “very large” eruption.
“The resulting shock wave is clearly visible in satellite imagery and there are reports that the eruption has been heard at least as far away as New Zealand,” she said. “The tsunami from the eruption reached over 2,500 km and was recorded on gauges throughout Aotearoa.”
Tsunamis generated by volcanoes are much less common than tsunamis caused by undersea earthquakes, Lane said.
A smaller eruption in late 2014/early 2015 built the volcano’s crater above the surface of the water, Lane added, but it’s not yet clear exactly how Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai erupted at this occasion. “When we see what’s left of the island after this eruption is over, we can start putting the pieces together of what happened,” she said.
Professor Shane Cronin, from the University of Auckland’s School of Environment, told the New Zealand Science Media Center that research into historical eruptions from the same volcano suggests the current eruption episode could last for weeks or months “and that other eruptions similar in size to the January 15, 2022 event are possible.”
“The eruption will likely result in a large ash fall (cm to ten cm) in Tongatapu as well as the Ha’apai group of islands,” he said. “Help will be needed to restore clean water supplies. People in Tonga should also remain alert for further eruptions and especially a short-notice tsunami and should avoid low-lying areas.”
A previous tsunami warning issued for American Samoa has since been cancelled, according to the NWS Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
According to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, there is no tsunami threat to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands from a “distant eruption.”
The volcano had been active since December 20, but was declared inactive on January 11, according to RNZ.
CNN’s Haley Brink contributed to this report.