An underwater volcano erupts in the Pacific Ocean near Tonga

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – An undersea volcano erupted dramatically near the peaceful nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large tsunami waves crashing onto the shore and people rushing for higher ground. A tsunami advisory was in effect for Hawaii, Alaska and the Pacific coast of the United States, with reports of waves pushing boats into docks in Hawaii.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of the damage, as all internet connection to Tonga was lost around 6:40 p.m. local time, about 10 minutes after the trouble began, said Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis for network intelligence. Kentik company.

Tonga gets its internet via an undersea cable from Suva, Fiji, which has presumably been damaged. The company that operates this connection, Southern Cross Cable Network, could not immediately be reached for comment.

An undersea volcano erupted dramatically near the peaceful nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large tsunami waves crashing onto the shore and people rushing for higher ground. A tsunami advisory was in effect for Hawaii, Alaska and the US Pacific coast.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of the damage as all internet connection with Tonga was lost around 6:40 p.m. local time, said Doug Madory, director of internet analytics for the company. Kentik network intelligence.

Tonga gets its internet via an undersea cable from Suva, Fiji, which has presumably been damaged. The company that operates this connection, Southern Cross Cable Network, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Tonga’s Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military evacuated King Tupou VI from his palace near the shore. He was one of many residents heading for the higher ground.

In Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves measuring half a meter (1.6 feet) at Nawiliwili, Kauai and 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) at Hanalei. The National Weather Service said there were reports of boats being pushed into docks, but the danger was diminishing.

“We are relieved there is no damage reported and only minor flooding across the islands,” the tsunami center said, describing the situation in Hawaii.

In Tonga, home to around 105,000 people, video posted to social media showed large waves crashing into coastal areas, swirling around houses, a church and other buildings. Satellite images showed a huge eruption, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a mushroom above the blue waters of the Pacific.

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

The Tonga Meteorological Service said a tsunami warning had been declared for the entire archipelago, and data from the Pacific Tsunami Center said waves of 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) had been detected.

A Twitter user identified as Dr Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted a video showing waves crashing on the shore.

“Can literally hear the volcano erupting, quite violent sounds,” he wrote, adding in a later post, “Ash and tiny pebbles raining, darkness blanketing the sky.”

The explosion of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano was the latest in a series of dramatic eruptions.

Terrestrial imaging company Planet Labs PBC has been monitoring the island for the past few days after a new volcanic vent erupted in late December.

Satellite images captured by Planet Labs show how the volcano has shaped the region, creating a growing island off the coast of Tonga.

“The area of ​​the island appears to have increased by nearly 45% due to ashfall,” Planet said days before the latest activity.

After Saturday’s eruption, residents of Hawaii, Alaska and along the U.S. Pacific Coast were urged to move away from the coast to higher ground and heed specific instructions from their local emergency management officials, said Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska.

“We don’t issue reviews for this stretch of coastline like we did – I don’t know when the last time was – but it’s definitely not an everyday experience,” Snider said.

He said the crashing waves in Hawaii were just below the criteria for a more severe tsunami warning.

“The important thing here is that the first wave may not be the biggest. We could see this unfold for several hours,” he added. “It looks like everything will remain below alert level, but that’s hard to predict because it’s a volcanic eruption, and we’re set up to measure earthquakes or seismic sea waves.”

The first waves to hit the continental United States were about 30 centimeters high in Nikolski and Adak, Alaska. A wave of about 20 centimeters (0.7 feet) was seen in Monterey, California, the US National Tsunami Warning Center said in a tweet.

Beaches and piers have been closed in Southern California as a precaution. The National Weather Service tweeted that there were “no significant flooding concerns”. However, strong rip currents were possible and officials warned people to stay out of the water.

On California’s central coast, the National Weather Service reported tsunami waves reaching 75 centimeters and flooding in Port San Luis beach parking lots. About 200 miles along the coast, the waves were much smaller at Seal Beach in southern California, according to Michael Pless, the owner of M&M Surf School.

“The waves look pretty flat,” Pless said. “We hope they will reopen the beach in a few hours.”

Crowds gathered at the Port of Santa Cruz in California early Saturday to watch the water slowly rise and fall, straining the ties of boats at the docks. In 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a series of power surges cost the port $20 million in damage.

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 the coast, but it shouldn’t cause any damage.

More than 2,300 kilometers from Tonga in New Zealand, officials warned of possible storm surges from the eruption.

New Zealand’s private forecaster, Weather, Watch tweeted that people as far away as Southland, the country’s southernmost region, reported hearing sonic booms from the eruption. Others reported that many boats were damaged by a tsunami that hit a marina in Whangarei in the Northland region.

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 5 kilometer wide plume rising into the air about 20 kilometers away.

The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano is located about 64 kilometers 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.

There is no significant difference between submarine and terrestrial volcanoes, and submarine volcanoes grow larger as they erupt, usually reaching the surface, said Hans Schwaiger, research geophysicist at the Volcano Observatory. from Alaska.

With submarine volcanoes, however, water can add to the explosiveness of the eruption as it hits lava, Schwaiger added.

Before an explosion, there is usually an increase in small local earthquakes on the volcano, but depending on its distance from land, this may not be felt by residents along the shoreline, Schwaiger said.

In 2019, Tonga lost internet access for almost two weeks when the same fiber optic cable was severed. The manager of the local cable company said at the time that a large ship may have cut the cable while dragging an anchor. Until limited satellite access was restored, people couldn’t even make international calls.

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Associated Press writers Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, Frank Bajak in Boston, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Fili Sagapolutele in Pago Pago, American Samoa, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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