Concerns mount for Tonga after tsunami triggered by eruption

In this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga Saturday, Jan 15, 2022. An undersea volcano erupted in spectacular fashion near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground. (PHOTO / JAPAN METEOROLOGY AGENCY VIA AP)

WELLINGTON – Pacific nations and humanitarian groups struggled to establish communications with Tonga on Sunday after a tsunami triggered by a massive volcanic eruption cut telephone and internet connections, raising concerns for the tiny island nation.

An underwater volcano off Tonga erupted on Saturday, triggering tsunami warnings and evacuation orders on the shores of Tonga as well as several South Pacific islands, where footage on social media showed waves crashing into coastal homes.

Internet and phone lines went down at about 6.40 pm local time on Saturday, leaving the 105,000 residents on the islands virtually uncontactable.

"The images of the volcanic eruption in close proximity to Tonga are hugely concerning," Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, located about 1,481 miles from Tonga, said in a statement on Instagram.

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"Communication as a result of the eruption has been difficult, but our defence force team and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are working as we speak to establish what's needed and how we can help," she said.

The New Zealand foreign ministry said there were no reports of injuries or deaths as yet but communications were limited.

Ardern will address the media at 3 pm New Zealand time (0200 GMT) to give an update on the situation.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Pacific Office in Suva, Fiji said it was monitoring the situation and had no updates on damages or casualties.

Tongan churches in New Zealand organized prayers for their families back home.

"We pray God will help our country at this sad moment. We hope everybody is safe…," Maikeli Atiola, the Secretary of the Wesleyan Church of Tonga in Auckland said, Radio New Zealand reported.

The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano has erupted regularly over the past few decades but Saturday's eruption was so loud that residents parts of faraway Fiji and New Zealand said they heard it.

Satellite images captured the volcanic eruption on Saturday as the explosion sent plumes of smoke into the air and about 12 miles above the sea level.

The sky over Tonga was darkened by the ash.

The eruptions triggered tsunami warnings across the Pacific, with the United States and Japan urging people on their Pacific coastlines to stay away from the shores.

Australia issued a marine tsunami warning for the New South Wales coastlines, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island, and said local beaches along the state’s coast have been closed. A tsunami advisory was also issued in New Zealand.

Japan's meteorological agency issued tsunami warnings in the early hours on Sunday and said waves as high as three metres (9.84 feet) were expected in the Amami islands in the south. Waves of more than a metre were recorded there earlier.

Japan's meteorological agency issued tsunami warnings in the early hours on Sunday and said waves as high as three metres (9.84 feet) were expected in the Amami islands in the south. Waves of more than a metre were recorded there earlier

Public broadcaster NHK said no damage or casualties had been reported, interrupting its regular programming to report on the tsunami advisory spanning the entire eastern coast of the Japanese archipelago issued by the country's meteorological agency.

In a briefing, a Japan Meteorological Agency official urged people not to go near the sea until the tsunami advisory and more serious tsunami warnings had been lifted. The warnings – the first in more than five years – covered several specific areas.

He said the change in sea levels observed did not follow a familiar pattern of tsunamis following earthquakes.

Tsunami waves were observed in Tonga's capital and the capital of American Samoa, a US-based tsunami monitor said, following the eruption at 0410 GMT of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai underwater volcano.

The volcano, which lies about 65 km (40 miles) north of Nuku'alofa, caused a 1.2-metre (four-foot) tsunami wave, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said.

Fiji issued a tsunami warning, urging residents to avoid the shorelines "due to strong currents and dangerous waves".

Jese Tuisinu, a television reporter at Fiji One, posted a video on Twitter showing large waves crashing ashore, with people trying to flee in their cars.

"It is literally dark in parts of Tonga and people are rushing to safety following the eruption," he said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

A tsunami advisory was also in effect for the US and Canadian Pacific coast, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu said.

The National Weather Service said tsunami waves along the Oregon and southern Washington coast were expected imminently. High waves were reported in Alaska and Hawaii earlier.

In the San Francisco Bay Area of northern California, small parts of the cities of Berkeley and Albany near the bay were ordered to evacuate.

Tsunami surge inundates the parking lot at the top of the Upper Harbor in Santa Cruz, Calif, on Jan 15, 2022. Moments later all the water receded from the lot before flooding it again shortly thereafter. An undersea volcano erupted Saturday near the Pacific nation of Tonga, with tsunami advisories issued for Hawaii, Alaska and the US Pacific coast. (SHMUEL THALER/THE SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL VIA AP)