Japan Meteorological Agency via AP
A massive undersea volcano that erupted just before sunset on Friday sent foot-high waves to the shores of the island nation of Tonga and thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean, from the Australia to Canada, including the West Coast of the United States.
Plumes from the explosion reached more than 20 km above sea level, according to the Tonga Geological Survey. At its widest, the cloud caused by ash and steam was about 150 miles in diameter, making it easily visible from satellites. The eruption was so massive that its shock waves were felt as far as Mount Hood in Oregon.
In Tonga, where 105,000 people live, the extent of injuries and damage caused was still largely unknown. The eruption, which filled the sky with so much ash that darkness seemed to fall on Tonga two hours before sunset, disrupted communications, according to the Associated Press.
Waves inundated parts of the capital Nuku’alofa – just 40 miles from the site of the eruption – including parts of the grounds of the Royal Palace, according to Radio New Zealand.
On Twitter, a resident of Tonga named Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted a video Saturday, showing multi-foot waves crossing a road into homes.
The activity of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano continued on Saturday morning with another less powerful eruption lasting 10 to 15 minutes, according to the Geological Survey of Tonga.
Geologists saw massive explosions and lightning during the eruption
Taaniela Kula, an official with the country’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, told the Matangi Tonga news site that geologists observed massive explosions and lightning during the eruption.
“Indeed, it was a great day yesterday! It was great to be out there during the peak hours of the volcano. It’s a geologist’s dream to see real geological events taking place,” he said. he declared.
Ash from the eruption could contaminate drinking water, the Tonga government has warned. Residents were asked to cover water tanks and check their roofs for ash before reconnecting rainwater systems.
Following Friday night’s eruption, authorities in Pacific nations issued tsunami warnings and advisories, from Fiji and Samoa to Australia and British Columbia in Canada.
New Zealand officials have warned of “unpredictable surges” on the north and east coasts of the country’s North Island. According to New Zealand Herald.
In Australia, a marine threat advisory warned that “dangerous rips, waves and strong ocean currents” were possible.
New Zealand and Australia renewed their tsunami advisories on Sunday morning. “Strong currents and surges can injure and drown people. There is a hazard to swimmers, surfers, people fishing, small boats and anyone in or near water near shore,” wrote the New Zealand National Emergency Management Agency.
The Japan Meteorological Agency has warned of a tsunami wave on the country’s east and south coasts, with the strongest waves expected in Amami and Tokara Islands, two archipelagos south of the country’s largest islands. Rises of nearly 1.20 meters were recorded in Amami and near Kuji, a town on the northeast coast of Honshu.
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Tsunami waves felt from Hawaii to US West Coast
The first US state to feel the effects of the eruption was Hawaii, where waves over a foot have been reported in Kauai and nearly a meter high in Hanalei. “We are relieved that no damage was reported and only minor flooding across the islands,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
The waves reached the west coast of the continental United States on Saturday morning. The National Weather Service issued a tsunami advisory for the entire West Coast and the entire South Coast of Alaska, warning that strong currents and waves were expected – but not the “significant flooding” of a tsunami warning fully fledged.
According to an NWS update at 3:15 p.m. ET, the strongest surge was recorded in Port San Luis, California, where the water reached more than 4 feet above normal levels. Waves exceeded 3 feet at King Cove in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and Point Arena and Crescent City, California, two towns along the northern California coast.
Authorities had prepared early Saturday for the possibility of a small but potentially disruptive surge. Beaches have been cleared from San Diego to San Francisco. More than 100 people were evacuated from boats, docks and the shoreline of the Berkeley Marina, according to the Berkleyside news site.
The damage seemed relatively minor on the west coast. In Santa Cruz, Calif., a tidal surge flooded the city’s beaches and harbor, causing minor damage, Elizabeth Smith, the city’s communications manager, told CNN.