Tsunami alerts in South Pacific, US coast after volcano erupts | News

Tongans have fled to higher elevations after a submarine volcano erupted, sending tsunami waves crashing onto the island in the South Pacific, triggering warnings as far as the US west coast.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of damage as communications in the island – home to about 100,000 people – were out of order on Saturday.

A 1.2-meter (4-foot) tsunami wave was observed in the capital Nuku’alofa, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Videos on social media showed large waves washing up in coastal areas, swirling around houses and buildings.

Tonga Meteorological Services said the tsunami warning was in effect for all of Tonga.

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

The Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military personnel had evacuated Tonga’s King Tupou VI from his palace near the coast. He was one of the many residents who were on their way to higher ground.

The volcano also erupted on Friday, when small tsunami waves of up to 0.3 meters (1 foot) were recorded, the Tonga Meteorological Office said.

A Twitter user named Dr. Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted a video after Saturday’s eruption showing waves crashing ashore.

“Can literally hear the volcanic eruption, sounds quite violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “Raining ash and small pebbles, darkness covering the sky.”

Dramatic images from space showed the moment when the latest eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai sent a mushroom of smoke and ash into the sky, sending a shock wave across the surrounding waters.

Earlier, the Matangi Tonga news site reported that scientists observed massive explosions, thunder and lightning near the volcano after it began to erupt early Friday.

The site said satellite images showed a 5km-wide (3 miles) plume of ash, steam and gas rising in the sky for about 20km (12 miles).

The eruption was so intense it was heard as “loud thunders” in Fiji, more than 800 km (500 miles) away, officials in Suva said. Authorities in nearby Fiji have also warned, telling people to avoid the coastline because of strong currents and dangerous waves.

A map showing the location of Tonga northeast of New Zealand.

More than 2,300 km away in New Zealand, officials warned of storm surges from the eruption.

The New Zealand Emergency Management Agency has issued an advisory on tsunami activity off the north and east coasts of areas expected to experience strong and unusual currents and unpredictable coastal waves.

The National Emergency Management Agency said some parts of New Zealand can expect “strong and unusual currents and unpredictable waves on the coast after a major volcanic eruption”.

Late Saturday, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the threat to American Samoa appeared to be over, although minor sea swings could continue.

The volcano is located about 64 km (40 mi) north of Nuku’alofa. In late 2014 and early 2015, a series of eruptions in the area created a small new island and disrupted international air traffic to the Pacific archipelago for several days.

Alerts in the US

In Hawaii, Alaska and along the U.S. Pacific coast, residents were asked to move away from the coast to higher elevations and heed the specific instructions of their local emergency responders, said Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska.

The first waves to hit the continental United States were measured about 0.3 meters in Nikolski, Atka and Adak, Alaska.

The wave was about 0.2 meters (0.7 feet) in Monterey, California, the US National Tsunami Warning Center said in a tweet.

The National Weather Service said there were reports of waves propelling boats in Hawaii. According to the National Tsunami Warning Center, sea level fluctuations also started in Alaska and California.

Beaches and piers were closed throughout Southern California as a precaution, but the National Weather Service tweeted that there were “no significant flood concerns.”

However, strong rip currents were possible and officials warned people to stay out of the water.

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