People were forced to flee their homes and streets and buildings were inundated as tsunami waves crashed into Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, following a huge underwater volcano explosion.
A tsunami advisory was in effect for Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Pacific Coast and Japan, with reports of waves tossing boats into docks in Hawaii.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said the tsunami also reached that country’s Pacific coast, with waves reaching three meters (11 feet).
A 1.2-meter wave reached the remote southern island of Amami Oshima and other areas along Japan’s Pacific coast saw smaller surges, the agency said.
In Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves slamming onshore from half a meter (1.6 ft) at Nawiliwili, Kauai, to 80 cm (2.7 ft) at Hanalei. “We are relieved that no damage was reported and only minor flooding across the islands,” the center said.
In Tonga, home to around 105,000 people, video posted to social media showed large waves crashing into coastal areas, swirling around houses and buildings, including a church.
The 04:10 GMT eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai submarine volcano, located about 65 km (40 miles) north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, caused a 1.2 meter tsunami, announced the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
The eruption – captured in satellite images which show a huge plume of ash, steam and gas rising from the ocean – was heard and felt as far away as Fiji and Vanuatu, where people said felt the ground and buildings shake for hours.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of the damage in Tonga, but online videos showed huge waves in coastal areas, swirling around houses and buildings.
Communications and electricity have reportedly been cut on the main island of Tonga, and the government has called in military reserves to help respond to the disaster.
Island Affairs reported that a convoy of police and military evacuated King Tupou VI from his palace near the shore, and local news site Kaniva Tonga reported long lines of traffic as thousands tried to reach higher ground across the main island.
Dr Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau, a project coordinator working with the Tongan parliament, said the explosion resulted in a fall of “ash and tiny pebbles, with darkness covering the sky”.
Tsunami waves of 82 cm (2.7 ft) were observed by gauges in the capital of Tonga and waves of 60 cm (2 ft) in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, said the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
The Fijian government has issued a tsunami warning, urging residents of the country’s coastal regions to move to higher ground due to “larger than usual waves”. There are reports that some Fijian villages have been flooded and families evacuated.
In Australia, Japan, Hawaii, Alaska and along the US Pacific Coast, residents have been urged to move away from the coast to higher ground and heed specific instructions from their local health officials. emergency management, said Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has issued an evacuation order for Lord Howe Island and warnings for a large swath of the mainland’s east coast. Sydney’s Bondi Beach was evacuated overnight and a maritime threat warning remained in place on Sunday morning Australian time.
Tsunami warnings were downgraded Sunday morning AEST to Marine Threat.
The Bureau of Meteorology said a tsunami wave height of 1.27m was observed on Norfolk Island at 9:00 p.m. AEDT and a wave of 82cm was recorded on the Gold Coast at 10:54 p.m. AEDT Saturday.
He said 1.10m high waves were recorded at Ned’s Beach on Lord Howe Island around 11pm AEDT and a 50cm surge was observed at Hobart’s Derwent Park around 11.44pm AEDT.
Beaches and piers were closed in Southern California as a precaution, but the National Weather Service tweeted that there were “no major flooding concerns”.
However, strong rip currents were possible and officials warned people to stay out of the water.
Residents of American Samoa were alerted to the tsunami by local broadcasters as well as church bells ringing across the territory. An outdoor siren warning system was out of service. Those who lived along the shore quickly moved to higher ground.
Fiji One TV reporter Jese Tuisinu posted a video on Twitter showing large waves washing up on shore and people trying to flee the oncoming waves in their cars. “It is literally dark in parts of Tonga and people are rushing to safety after the eruption,” he said.
New Zealand’s emergency management agency has issued a tsunami activity advisory for its north and east coasts, saying the areas are expected to experience strong and unusual currents and unpredictable shoreline surges.
On Friday, the volcano sent ash, steam and gas up to 20km into the air, with a radius of 260km, Tonga Geological Services said in a Facebook post.