Volcano erupts in Pacific, West Coast under tsunami advisory

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – A submarine volcano spectacularly erupted near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large tsunami waves crashing over the coast and rushing people to higher ground. A tsunami advisory was in effect for Hawaii, Alaska and the US Pacific coast, with reports of waves pushing boats up into the docks in Hawaii.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of damage because all Internet connectivity to Tonga was cut at about 6:40 p.m. local time — about 10 minutes after the problems began, said Doug Madory, director of internet analytics for network intelligence company Kentik.

Tonga gets its internet via an undersea cable from Suva, Fiji, which is believed to have been damaged. The company that operates that connection, Southern Cross Cable Network, was not immediately available for comment.

In Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves hitting the shore from half a meter (1.6 feet) in Nawiliwili, Kauai, to 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) in Hanalei. “We are relieved that no damage has been reported and that there is only minor flooding on the islands,” the center said, describing the situation in Hawaii.

In Tonga, home to about 105,000 people, social media has shown large waves washing up in coastal areas, swirling around houses and buildings, including a church. Satellite images showed a massive eruption, a plume of ash, steam and gas mushrooming over the blue Pacific waters.

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

The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning had been issued for the entire archipelago, and data from the Pacific tsunami center showed that 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) waves had been detected.

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

A Twitter user identified as Dr. Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted a video of 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.”

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 30 centimeters (1 foot) in Nikolski, Atka and Adak, Alaska. The wave was about 20 centimeters (0.7 feet) in Monterey, California, the US National Tsunami Warning Center said in a tweet.

The National Weather Service said there are reports of waves pushing boats into 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.

Crowds gathered in the Santa Cruz harbor early Saturday to watch the water slowly rise and fall, tensioning the boat ties on the docks. There was no apparent direct damage. In 2011, after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, a series of floods cost $20 million in damage in the port.

“We’re not giving advice for this length of coastline as we have — I’m not sure when the last time was — but it’s really not an everyday experience,” Snider said. “I hope this increases the importance and seriousness for our citizens.”

He said the waves already hitting Hawaii were just below the criteria for a more serious tsunami warning.

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

Residents of American Samoa were warned by local broadcasters and church bells ringing throughout the territory. An outdoor siren warning system was out of service. Those who lived along the shoreline quickly moved to higher elevations.

As night fell, there were no reports of damage and the Hawaii-based tsunami center canceled the warning.

Authorities in the nearby island states of Fiji and Samoa have also issued warnings and told people to avoid the coastline because of strong currents and dangerous waves. The Japan Meteorological Agency said there may be some slight swelling of the water along the coast, but it is not expected to cause any damage.

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

Earlier, the Matangi Tonga news site reported that scientists observed massive explosions, thunder and lightning near the volcano after it began to erupt early on Friday. Satellite images showed a 5 kilometer wide plume rising in the sky to about 20 kilometers (12 miles).

More than 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) away in New Zealand, officials warned of storm surges from the eruption.

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

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

The volcano is located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of the capital 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.

There’s no significant difference between volcanoes underwater and on land, and underwater volcanoes get bigger as they erupt, usually through the surface at one point, said Hans Schwaiger, a research geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

With underwater volcanoes, however, the water can contribute to the eruption’s explosiveness when it hits the lava, Schwaiger added.

Before an explosion, there is generally an increase in small local earthquakes near the volcano, but depending on how far it is from land, that may not be felt by residents along the shoreline, Schwaiger said.

In 2019, Tonga lost internet access for nearly two weeks when the same fiber optic cable was cut. The director of the local cable company said at the time that a large ship may have severed the cable by 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, and Fili Sagapolutele in Pago Pago, American Samoa, contributed to this report.

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