Tonga volcano eruption has massive waves crashing on shores far and wide
The explosion of an underwater volcano near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday sent tsunami waves crashing to the shore in many countries.
The eruption also cut the internet to Tonga, leaving people anxiously trying to get in touch with their families and friends on Sunday.
Satellite images showed a huge plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a mushroom above the blue water of the Pacific, with a sonic boom that could be heard as far away as Alaska.
Tsunami advisories were issued for Japan, Hawaii, Alaska and the US Pacific coast, with the US Geological Survey estimating the eruption caused a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.
Tsunami in Japan
The Japan Meteorological Agency, meanwhile, issued a tsunami warning on Sunday for the southwestern islands of Amami and Tokara. The maximum height of the tsunami, unleashed by the eruption, is forecast to reach 3m in the Amami and Tokara chains, Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan.
A tsunami advisory was issued for the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido to Kagoshima, as well as for Okinawa Prefecture, southernmost Japan, and the Izu and Ogasawara chains in the Pacific.
In the Kominato district on the Kagoshima island of Amami Oshima, a 1.2m tsunami was observed at 11.55pm on Saturday.
Later, a 90cm tsunami was observed in Kuji, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan, and in Tosashimizu, Kochi Prefecture, western Japan.
On Sunday, a liaison office was set up at the crisis management centre of the prime minister’s office.
Tsunami waves may have been magnified due to changes in atmospheric pressure in wide areas caused by the eruption, according to the agency.
Tonga cut off
The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning had been declared for the entire archipelago, and data from the Pacific tsunami centre said waves of 80 centimetres were detected.
Rachel Afeaki-Taumoepeau, chair of the New Zealand Tonga Business Council, said she hoped people managed to get to safety in time and said she was worried about those living on islands closest to the volcano. She said on Sunday that she was still not able to contact her friends and family in Tonga.
“We are praying that the damage is just to infrastructure and people were able to get to higher land,” she said.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand military said it was monitoring the situation and was on standby, ready to assist if asked.
In Tonga, home to some 105,000 people, a clip posted on social media showed large waves washing ashore and swirling around homes, a church and other buildings.
A convoy of police and military troops also evacuated Tonga’s King Tupou VI from his palace near the shore.
Rumbles as far away as Hawaii, California
In Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre reported half-metre high waves in Nawiliwili, Kauai and 80cm high in Hanalei.
Residents in Hawaii, Alaska and along the US Pacific coast were advised to move to higher ground and pay attention to updates.
“We don’t issue an advisory for this length of coastline, but this really isn’t an everyday experience,” said Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Centre in Alaska.
Savannah Peterson watched in shock as the water rose several feet in a matter of minutes in front of her oceanfront house in Pacifica, California, just south of San Francisco. “It came up so fast, and a few minutes after that it was down again. It was nuts to see that happen so quickly,” she said. “I’ve never had water come all the way up to my front door, and today it did.”
Police also rescued a surfer whose surfboard broke in powerful waves off San Francisco.
Farther south in Santa Cruz, California, officials were taking stock of the damage after a surge damaged boats and inundated low-lying streets and parking lots, sending cars afloat. In Southern California, surging waters sunk at least one boat in Ventura Harbor northwest of Los Angeles.
“We are relieved that there is no reported damage and only minor flooding throughout the islands,” the tsunami centre said, describing the situation in Hawaii. The tsunami advisory for the islands was lifted about 11 hours after the eruption more than 4,828km away.
The first waves to hit the continental United States measured about 33cm in Nikolski, Alaska, and 59cm in Adak, Alaska. A wave of about 79cm was seen in Monterey, California, according to the US National Tsunami Warning Centre.
On California’s central coast, the National Weather Service reported tsunami waves up to 1.2 metres and flooding in beach parking lots at Port San Luis. About 320km down the coast, the waves were much smaller at Southern California’s Seal Beach.
Though experienced surfers would consider the waves reaching the West Coast barely high enough to qualify as swells, the National Weather Service warned that tsunamis cause deceptive water surges powerful enough to pull people out to sea.
Tracking the Hunga-Tonga volcano eruption
• The volcano under the Pacific Ocean erupts on Friday, sending a 5km-wide plume of ash about 20km into the air.
• Tonga issues a tsunami warning.
• Tonga geologists near the volcano observe explosions and a massive plume of ash.
• On Saturday, a significantly larger eruption occurs at about 5pm local time in Tonga.
• The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Wellington, New Zealand issues an advisory to airlines.
• Ash from the eruption makes landfall on the main Tongan island of Tongatapu, blotting out the sun.
• Loud explosions are heard 65km away in the Tongan capital of Nukuʻalofa with small pebbles and ash raining down from the sky.
• About 15 minutes later, a 1.2-metre-high wave hits the shore of Nuku’alofa, followed by two more equally high waves.
• King Tupou VI is evacuated and traffic comes to a near standstill as locals flee to higher ground.
• The explosion is heard as far away as Samoa, roughly 840km away.
• Tsunami waves measuring 0.61m hit American Samoa.
• A 20cm high wave hits Fijian capital Suva at about 5.40pm local time.
• Tsunami waves of 1 to 2.5 metres were observed in several islands in Vanuatu.
• Sonic booms were heard in the North Island of New Zealand and as far away as the east coast of Australia.
• The tsunami sinks several boats at a marina in Tutukaka, New Zealand.
• Waves up to 0.8 metres high are recorded in Hanalei, Hawaii.
• A wide column and shockwaves were captured propagating across the Pacific by satellites.
• The US Geological Survey registers a 5.8-magnitude earthquake.
• Preliminary observations show the eruption column ejected a large amount of volcanic material into the stratosphere, which may have a temporary effect on the climate.
• A scientist from the University of Auckland describes this explosion as a one-in-1,000-year event.
• Waves up to 0.8m high are recorded in Hanalei, Hawaii.
• The highest tsunami waves of 1.27m are recorded at Australia’s Norfolk Island, 0.82m at the Gold Coast in Queensland and 0.77m at Twofold Bay in New South Wales.
• In Kominato district of Amami-Oshima island, Japan’s Kagoshima prefecture, a 1.2m tsunami is reported at 11.55pm local time.
• Waves 0.9m high hit Tosashimizu in Kōchi prefecture and Chichijima Futami.
• On the Tohoku coast, a 0.7m wave strikes at just after midnight local time on Sunday. A tsunami measuring 0.9m hits Sendai Port at around midnight.
• Tsunami waves hit Santa Cruz Harbour in California on Saturday morning.
• Waves up to 0.37 metres in height are recorded in Nikolski, Alaska.
• Waves 0.30m to 0.61m hit the Mexican states of Guerrero, Colima and Baja California, while a minor tsunami surge measuring 0.76m hits Port San Luis in California.
• Restaurants and boats in Peru’s Lagunillas beach and San Andrés district are damaged by the tsunami. Beachgoers are evacuated, while shops suspend business. Piers and some homes are damaged in Lima.
• In northern Chile, waves of up to 2m strike the coastline damaging piers, boats and hitting beaches.
• Minor tsunamis related to the eruption are measured as far away as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, a maximum rise of 0.18m in Puerto Rico.