Tsunami waves hit Tonga following eruption as New Zealand issues national advisory

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Large waves crashed ashore in Tonga Saturday after a massive volcanic eruption that was heard in neighboring countries triggered the area’s second tsunami in as many days.

“A 1.2-meter tsunami wave has been observed at Nukualofa,” Australia's Bureau of Meteorology tweeted. The maximum tsunami wave recorded following Friday’s explosion was 30 centimeters.

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Meanwhile, New Zealand’s national emergency management issued a national advisory of tsunami activity following 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.”

The latest eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano came just a few hours after Friday’s tsunami warning was lifted.

It lasted at least eight minutes and sent plumes of gas, ash and smoke several kilometers into the air. Residents in coastal areas were urged to head for higher ground.

The eruption was so intense it was heard as “loud thunder sounds” in Fiji more than 800 kilometers away, officials in Suva said.

Victorina Kioa of the Tonga Public Service Commission said Friday that people should “keep away from areas of warning which are low-lying coastal areas, reefs and beaches.”

The head of Tonga Geological Services Taaniela Kula urged people to stay indoors, wear a mask if they were outside and cover rainwater reservoirs and rainwater harvesting systems.

Authorities in nearby Fiji also issued a warning, telling people to avoid the shoreline due to strong currents and dangerous waves.

The 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 headed for higher ground.

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.”

Earlier, the Matangi Tonga news site reported that scientists observed massive explosions, thunder and lightning near the volcano after it started erupting early Friday.

The site said satellite images showed a five-kilometer-wide plume of ash, steam and gas rising up into the air to about 20 kilometers.

Late Saturday, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the threat to American Samoa appeared to have passed, although minor sea fluctuations could continue.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano sits on an uninhabited island about 65 kilometers north of the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa.

With inputs from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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