Tonga tsunami alert as groups crash into homes following earthquake
Radio New Zealand reported on Saturday that Tonga Geological sets head Taaniela Kula said the eruption had a radius of 260 kilometres.
It was about seven times more powerful than the last eruption on December 20 last year and continuing to grow, Kula earlier told RNZ.
Collaroy Beach in Sydney was closed due to the tsunami warning on Sunday.Credit:Oscar Colman
Locals were scrambling to get to higher ground amid raining ash and pebbles as darkness fell on Saturday evening. In one video four people, two with “selfie” sticks, are seen running away as the groups approach the shore. One, a woman, is knocked to the ground and swept away as the other, a man, struggles to cling to a tree.
The Tonga Meteorological Service issued a warning about 3.10pm AEDT on Saturday for all of Tonga after the violent eruption of the volcanic island Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai, which lies about 65 km north of Nuku’alofa. It was followed by a 1.2-metre tsunami observed at the capital Nuku’alofa about 20 minutes later.
Tsunami warnings were downgraded for Lord Howe and Norfolk islands on Sunday, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
“People in land warning zones are strongly advised to move 1 kilometre inland or go to high ground at the minimum 10 metres above sea level.”
Rachel Afeaki-Taumoepeau, who chairs the New Zealand Tonga Business Council, said on Sunday she hoped the comparatively low level of the tsunami groups would have allowed most people to get to safety, although she worried about those living on islands closest to the volcano. She said she hadn’t in addition been able to contact her friends and family in Tonga.
“We are praying that the damage is just to infrastructure and people were able to get to higher land,” she said.
Tonga gets its internet via an undersea cable from Suva, Fiji, which presumably was damaged. All internet connectivity with Tonga was lost at about 6.40pm local time, said Doug Madory, director of internet examination for the network intelligence firm Kentik, making it difficult to acquire reports from the ground.
Southern Cross Cable Network, the company that manages the connection, does not know in addition “if the cable is cut or just experiencing strength loss,” chief technical officer Dean Veverka said.
A an island produced by the underwater Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano is seen smoking on January 7.Credit:Planet Labs/AP
The Fiji-based Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military troops evacuated Tonga’s King Tupou VI from his palace near the shore. He was among the many residents who headed for higher ground.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Saturday, “we are keeping a really close eye on the observations across the South Pacific” to see what happens with the groups that have been produced so far, and any further volcanic activity.
meaningful sea-level variations are likely for hours and already days, and tsunami groups are more powerful than ordinary groups of the same size, the statement said. “There will be many groups and the first wave may not be the largest.”
On social media, some described being able to hear the eruption before the groups began to roll in, crashing by fences and inundating coastal homes.
Tongan journalist Mary Fonua told New Zealand’s 1News on Saturday that the country had had “a very frightening hour” following a series of “huge explosions” at the volcanic island.
Fonua described seeing “this long white wave… coming from the horizon.
“After about three groups it had come over the road and into our garden, and our car was washing against the front post.
“The groups have continued to come in,” she said.
She was concerned that the groups were heading towards a low-lying settlement housing “thousands of people” on a thin peninsula.
The crowning of Tongan King Tupou VI in 2015.Credit:Edwina Pickles
But she said warnings in recent days, including from police with loudspeakers, had kept people out of the water.
The Australian government said it was working to determine a damage assessment and what assistance may be required, while a tsunami warning for coastal NSW and parts of Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania followed warnings for Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island issued more than four hours after the groups began to hit Tonga.
Tonga “is part of our Pacific family and our thoughts are with the complete community dealing with the impact of the volcanic eruption and tsunami”, a spokesperson for the Australian government said.
“The chief Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs are monitoring the situation and Australia stands ready to provide sustain to Tonga if requested. Initial assessments are nevertheless underway and DFAT is working to ensure Australians in Tonga are safe and accounted for.”
Japan’s meteorological agency issued tsunami warnings in the early hours on Sunday and said groups as high as three metres were expected in the Amami islands in the south. groups of more than a metre were recorded there earlier.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK said no damage or casualties had been reported, interrupting its regular programming to report on the tsunami advisory issued by the country’s meteorological agency spanning the complete eastern coast of the Japanese archipelago.
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.
“We do not know in addition whether these [waves] are truly tsunami,” he told the briefing.
The extent of the under-sea eruption was captured in emotional satellite imagery, while surges in atmospheric pressure were detected in Australia and New Zealand likely caused by the gravity wave generated by the explosion.
At 4.54am AEDT on Sunday, the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre said a marine warning remained in place for NSW, covering all coastal areas. It said there was the possibility of dangerous rips, groups and strong ocean currents, and some “localised overflow” onto the immediate foreshore, forecast to occur from 8.45pm on Saturday night and persist “for several hours”.
“While evacuations are not necessary for Marine Threat areas, people in these areas are advised to get out of the water and move away from the immediate water’s edge,” the warning centre said.
The same warning was issued for NSW at 6.55am AEDT.
Early Sunday morning, the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre also re-issued a warning for parts of the Victorian coast. There was a possibility of dangerous rips, groups and ocean currents.
“If you are located in the water, or at water’s edge along from Lakes Entrance to 60 nautical miles east of Gabo Island including East Gippsland Coast, you are in danger. You should move closest to higher ground,” the statement said. “Do not go to the coast to watch the tsunami.”
Tsunami groups of 83 cm were recorded by gauges in the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa and two-foot groups were seen at Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said.
Fiji issued a tsunami warning, urging residents to avoid the shorelines “due to strong currents and dangerous groups”.
Jese Tuisinu, a television reporter at Fiji One, posted a video on Twitter showing large groups 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.
In New Zealand, the emergency management agency issued an advisory on tsunami activity for the country’s north and east coasts, forecasting strong and uncommon currents and unpredictable surges along shorelines in those areas.
A tsunami advisory was also in effect for the US and Canadian Pacific coast, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Honolulu said. A surge in Ventura Harbour, California, was clearly visible in photos, with floating docks rising to their highest heights. A tsunami warning was in place for Hawaii, but it was cancelled on Sunday morning Australian time.
The US National Weather Service said tsunami groups along the Oregon and southern Washington coast were expected imminently. High groups 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 expert Andrew Gissing, general manager of Risk Frontiers, said while the volcano’s recent activity had resulted in a marine tsunami warning on Friday, the eruption on Saturday “seems much bigger” and it appeared the groups had hit the central business district.
“There are hotels, lots of shops nearby and eateries right by the water,” he said. “So there are certainly concerns. The meaningful thing is the volcano is active, and there could be further eruptions.”
Fiji residents also reported being able to hear and feel the eruption, as the country issued an advisory warning to those in low-lying areas to stay out of the water and away from the shore. Hours later Vanuatu also issued an alert, and there are reports of some inundation in Port Vila.
It comes after the same volcano erupted on Friday, sending ash, steam and gas 20 kilometres into the air, Tonga Geological sets said in a Facebook post. The volcano was erupting intermittently in late December.
with AP, Stuff and Reuters
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