The violent eruption of an underwater volcano near the island of Tonga, in the South Pacific Ocean, has caused a tsunami that has hit the coasts of this island nation and raised alarms in other countries in the region. “Waves of about 1.2 meters have been recorded in Nuku’alofa [la capital de Tonga, de unos 24.500 habitantes]”, the Australian Meteorological Service reported on its Twitter account. The local authorities of Tonga, with some 71,000 inhabitants, have not reported any victims at the moment, while local media warn that several areas of the country remain incommunicado.
The submarine volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai, located about 65 kilometers north of the Tongan island of Tongatapu, had previously registered an eruption of about eight minutes at around 5:20 p.m. local time and released a huge column of ash to kilometers high. The violent explosion has been recorded in images taken by satellites, as published by the Meteorological Service of the American island of Hawaii.
About 15 minutes later, the fierce onslaught of the waves hit the houses and buildings located on the first line of the north coast of Tongatapu, according to videos posted on social networks by witnesses, some of whom took refuge on the roof of their houses. . Another of the recordings shows at least five people, including children, sheltered in a local church just as the water begins to hit the windows of the religious compound. A driver caught in his flight the sudden rise of the waters, which was destroying walls and fences, while another car tried to avoid being caught by driving in reverse. Radio New Zealand has reported scenes of panic as people try to flee to inland areas of the island.
The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai already registered an increase in its activity on Friday, which temporarily triggered another tsunami alert, but that did not result in rising waters. In the face of the current emergency, the Tongan authorities have asked the entire population to stay away from the beaches and coastlines until 4:00 p.m. on Sunday and to wear a mask in the face of the ash rain.
Unlike tsunamis triggered by earthquakes, where tectonic plates unload their force and a second tsunami is unlikely, the volcano could again register a violent eruption capable of creating another ferocious tidal wave.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
In addition to Tonga, the neighboring island states of Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu have also issued a tsunami warning, which threatens the coast of New Zealand, more than 2,300 kilometers away from the volcano, and Australia. Likewise, the National Emergency Office of Chile has asked citizens to leave the beaches of the Juan Fernández Archipelago, San Félix Islands, Easter Island and Chilean Antarctica “in view of the possibility of a minor tsunami in said sectors.” The United States has done the same, whose Tsunami Warning Service, belonging to the National Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has issued a tsunami warning on the west coast of the country. This alert affects the states of Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. In any case, the expected waves would not exceed half a meter in height.
The Japan Meteorological Agency has also issued a tsunami alert on the east coast of the archipelago, with special risk in the group of Amami and Tokara islands (southwest of the country). The Japanese meteorological agency forecasts waves of up to 3 meters high in the aforementioned Amami and Tokara, where the arrival of the first wave, 1.2 meters high, has already been observed. The waves could reach up to a meter on the Japanese coast, including in the areas of Hokkaido, Chiba, Tokyo, Iwate, Hokkaido or Kagoshima, and the authorities are asking the population to stay away from the sea and evacuate somewhere. high.
More than 100 families from two villages on the Samoan island of Savaii —north of Tonga— have been evacuated, according to police reports, while photos posted on social networks show that the waves have hit part of the Vanua Levu island, in northeastern Fiji.
Vanuatu authorities called for “immediate evacuation” of coastal areas due to strong currents and waves. “Destructive tsunami waves estimated between 1 and 2.5 meters have been observed on some of our islands in Vanuatu. Tsunami waves are expected to remain possible along the coasts of all Vanuatu islands tonight,” the Vanuatu Meteorological and Geological Hazards Department said in a statement, confirming the arrival of waves in Port Vila. and Litzlitz.
The New Zealand Emergency Management Agency has indicated on Twitter that they expect “strong currents and unusual unpredictable swells” on the north and east coast of the North Island and the Chatham Islands of the oceanic country. The Australian Meteorological Service, after ruling out a tsunami alert for hours, predicted that a large wave could hit coastal areas in the east and southeast of the country, from the state of Queensland to the island of Tasmania.