Asian Reporter web extra, January 15, 2022
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 on Saturday, January 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. (Japan Meteorology Agency via
Volcano erupts near Tonga, tsunami advisory issued
By Nick Perry
The Associated Press
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — An undersea volcano erupted in
spectacular fashion near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday,
sending large tsunami waves crashing across the shore and people rushing
to higher ground. A tsunami advisory was in effect for Hawai‘i, Alaska,
and the U.S. Pacific coast, with reports of waves pushing boats up in
the docks in Hawai‘i.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of the
damage because all internet connectivity with Tonga was lost at about
6:40pm local time — about 10 minutes after problems began, said Doug
Madory, director of internet analysis for the network intelligence firm
Tonga gets its internet via an undersea cable from Suva, Fiji, which
presumably was damaged. The company that manages that connection,
Southern Cross Cable Network, could not immediately be reached for
In Hawai‘i, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves
slamming ashore from 1.6 feet in Nawiliwili, Kauai, to 2.7 feet in
Hanalei. "We are relieved that there is no reported damage and only
minor flooding throughout the islands," the center said, describing the
situation in Hawai‘i.
On Tonga, home to about 105,000 people, video posted to social media
showed large waves washing ashore in coastal areas, swirling around
homes and buildings, including a church. Satellite images showed a huge
eruption, a plume of ash, steam, and gas rising like a mushroom above
the blue Pacific waters.
New Zealand’s military said it was monitoring the situation and
remained on standby, ready to assist if asked.
The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning was declared
for all of the archipelago, and data from the Pacific tsunami center
showed waves of 2.7 feet 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
video showing waves crashing ashore.
"Can literally hear the volcano eruption, sounds pretty violent," he
wrote, adding in a later post: "Raining ash and tiny pebbles, darkness
blanketing the sky."
In Hawai‘i, Alaska, and along the U.S. Pacific coast, residents were
asked to move away from the coastline to higher ground and pay attention
to specific instructions from their local emergency management
officials, 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 at
about 1 foot in Nikolski, Atka, and Adak, Alaska. The wave was about .7
feet at Monterey, California, the U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center
said in a tweet.
The National Weather Service said there are reports of waves pushing
boats in Hawai‘i. Sea level fluctuations were also beginning in Alaska
and California, according to the National Tsunami Warning Center.
Beaches and piers were closed across Southern California as a
precaution but the National Weather Service tweeted there were "no
significant concerns about inundation." Strong rip currents were
possible, however, and officials warned people to stay out of the water.
Crowds gathered at the Santa Cruz harbor early Saturday to watch
water slowly rise and fall, straining boat ties on docks. There was no
obvious immediate damage. In 2011, after the Japanese earthquake and
tsunami, a series of surges cost $20 million of damage in the harbor.
"We don’t issue an advisory for this length of coastline as we’ve
done — I’m not sure when the last time was — but it really isn’t an
everyday experience," Snider said. "I hope that elevates the importance
and severity for our citizens."
He said the waves already slamming ashore in Hawai‘i were just under
the criteria for a more serious tsunami warning.
"The important thing here is the first wave may not be the largest.
We could see this play out for several hours," he added. "It looks like
everything will stay below the warning level but it’s difficult to
predict because this is a volcanic eruption and we’re set up to measure
earthquake or seismic-driven sea waves."
Residents of American Samoa were alerted of the tsunami warning by
local broadcasters as well as church bells that rang territory-wide. An
outdoor siren warning system was out of service. Those living along the
shoreline quickly moved to higher ground.
As night fell, there were no reports of any damage and the
Hawai‘i-based tsunami center cancelled the alert.
Authorities in the nearby island nations of Fiji and Samoa also
issued warnings, telling people to avoid the shoreline due to strong
currents and dangerous waves. The Japan Meteorological Agency said there
may be a slight swelling of the water along the coast, but it was not
expected to cause any damage.
Tonga’s Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police
and military troops evacuated King Tupou VI from his palace near the
shore. He was among the many residents who headed for higher ground.
Earlier, the Matangi Tonga news site reported that scientists
observed massive explosions, thunder, and lightning near the volcano
after it started erupting early Friday. Satellite images showed a
3-mile-wide plume rising into the air to about 12 miles.
More than 1,400 miles away in New Zealand, officials were warning of
storm surges from the eruption.
The National Emergency Management Agency said some parts of New
Zealand could expect "strong and unusual currents and unpredictable
surges at the shore following a large volcanic eruption."
New Zealand’s private forecaster Weather Watch tweeted that people as
far away as Southland, the country’s southernmost region, reported
hearing sonic booms from the eruption. Others reported that many boats
were damaged by a tsunami that hit a marina in Whangarei, in the
The volcano is located about 40 miles north of the capital,
Nuku’alofa. Back in late 2014 and early 2015, a series of eruptions in
the area created a small new island and disrupted international air
travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days.
There is not a significant difference between volcanoes underwater
and on land, and underwater volcanoes become bigger as they erupt, at
some point usually breaching the surface, said Hans Schwaiger, a
research geophysicist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory.
With underwater volcanoes, however, the water can add to the
explosivity of the eruption as it hits the lava, Schwaiger added.
Before an explosion, there is generally an increase in small local
earthquakes at 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 severed. The director of the local cable
company said at the time that a large ship may have cut the cable by
dragging an anchor. Until limited satellite access was restored people
couldn’t even make international calls.
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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