Family and friends await news from loved ones in Tonga after volcanic eruption felt as far as US

An undersea volcano erupted in spectacular fashion near the Pacific nation of Tonga, sending tsunami waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground.

The eruption cut the internet to Tonga, leaving friends and family members around the world anxiously trying to get in touch to learn of any injuries and the extent of the damage.

Even government websites and other official sources remained without any updates.

Satellite images showed a huge eruption on Saturday, local time, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a mushroom above the blue Pacific waters.

A sonic boom could be heard as far away as Alaska.

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Residents in Tonga run for cover as large waves crash ashore.

Tsunami advisories were issued for Hawaii, Alaska and the US Pacific coast.

The US Geological Survey estimated the eruption caused the equivalent of magnitude-5.8 earthquake.

Scientists said tsunamis generated by volcanoes rather than earthquakes are relatively rare.

The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning was declared for all of the archipelago, and data from the Pacific tsunami centre said waves of 80 centimetres were detected.


Rachel Afeaki-Taumoepeau, who chairs the New Zealand Tonga Business Council, said she hoped the relatively low level of the tsunami waves would have allowed most people to get to safety, although she worried about those living on islands closest to the volcano.

She said she hadn’t yet been able to contact her friends and family in Tonga.

Internet connection lost

Tonga gets its internet via an undersea cable from Suva in Fiji, which presumably was damaged.

All internet connectivity with Tonga was lost at about 6:40pm local time, said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for the network intelligence firm Kentik.

Southern Cross Cable Network, the company that manages the connection, does not know yet “if the cable is cut or just suffering power loss,” chief technical officer Dean Veverka said.


The Fiji-based 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 who headed for higher ground.

On Tonga, home to about 105,000 people, video posted to social media showed large waves washing ashore in coastal areas, swirling around homes, a church and other buildings.

New Zealand’s military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on stand-by, ready to assist if asked.

a man looks at a damaged boat.
The tsunami waves caused damage to boats as far away as New Zealand.(Tanya White, Northern Advcate, NZME via AP)

In Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves that measured 50cm in Nawiliwili, Kauai and 80cm in Hanalei.

The National Weather Service said there were reports of boats getting pushed up in docks, but there have been no reports of damage, only minor flooding throughout the islands. 

Volcanic eruptions creates new land

The explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano was the latest in a series of dramatic eruptions.

Earth imaging company Planet Labs PBC had watched the island in recent days after a new volcanic vent there began erupting in late December.

Satellite images captured by the company show how drastically the volcano had shaped the area, creating a growing island off Tonga.

“The surface area of the island appears to have expanded by nearly 45 per cent due to ashfall,” Planet Labs said days before the latest activity.

The first waves to hit the continental United States measured up to 59cm in Alaska, while a wave of about 79cm was observed in California, according to the US National Tsunami Warning Centre.

California Tonga Volcano Eruption
The tsunami surge inundated a parking lot in Santa Cruz in the US.(Shmuel Thler via AP)

On California’s central coast, the National Weather Service reported tsunami waves up to 1.2 meters and flooding in beach parking lots at Port San Luis.

Crowds gathered at the Santa Cruz Harbor in California to watch the rising and falling water strain boat ties on docks.

Law enforcement tried to clear people away when big surges started at around 7:30am.

people on a jetty
Crowds gathered at some US beaches to see bigger-than-usual waves hit the shore.(AP Photo:Nic Coury)

In 2011, after the Japanese earthquake, a series of surges caused $20 million of damage in the harbour.

Although experienced surfers would consider the waves reaching the West Coast barely high enough to qualify as swells, the National Weather Service warned that tsunamis cause deceptive water surges powerful enough to pull people out to sea.



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