Tonga (Pacific) – The eruption of a submarine volcano near the island nation of Tonga has prompted tsunami warnings across much of the Pacific.
A tsunami warning was issued on Saturday for the entire island kingdom and its more than 170 islands, according to the local weather office. Local media said tidal waves inundated properties on the main island of Tongatapu after the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano erupted.
“The ground shook, the whole house shook. It came in waves. My younger brother thought there were bombs going off near us,” Tonga native Mere Taufa told Stuff. A few minutes later, water entered her house and she saw the wall of a neighboring house collapse.
Official Victorina Kioa urged people to “stay away from all dangerous places, which means beaches, reefs and all flat stretches of coast”.
According to media reports, Tonga’s King Tupou VI. brought to safety from the royal palace in the capital Nuku’alofa. The Australian weather agency reported a 1.20 meter high wave in the city.
It had rained ash, telephone connections had failed. The extent of the damage was therefore initially unclear.
Authorities in other Pacific countries also issued tsunami warnings, including Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand. People have been urged to stay away from coastal areas.
Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Volcano is located on an uninhabited island about 40 miles from Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa. It had already erupted on Friday, and a tsunami warning was lifted shortly thereafter.
The eruption on Saturday lasted eight minutes and was so strong that it could be heard “like a distant rumble of thunder” even in the Fiji Islands more than 800 kilometers away, according to officials from Fiji.
Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai has been active since December. The volcano is about 30 kilometers southeast of Tonga’s Fonuafo’ou Island (also known as Falcon Island).