Satellite images suggested the worst.
Residents of the Tonga islands were fleeing to the heights this Saturday in the face of the tsunami caused by a new massive eruption - heard up to hundreds of kilometers - of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, which also led to tsunami warnings in the States States and Chile.
"A 1.20 m tsunami was observed in Nuku'alofa", the country's capital, announced the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
The previous tsunami had not exceeded 30 cm.
And the alert had just been lifted when the volcano experienced a new eruption.
"It was a massive explosion," local resident Mere Taufa, who was at home at the time, told the Stuff news site.
🇹🇴 Tonga |
#tsunami waves over the capital Nuku'alofa following the violent explosive eruption of the underwater volcano
(📹 via @sakakimoana) pic.twitter.com/11okSy5DpY
— Alexandre (@alex_le_bars) January 15, 2022
“The ground shook, the whole house shook.
It came in waves.
My younger brother thought bombs were exploding near our house,” she said.
A few minutes later, the water invaded their house, and she saw the wall of a nearby building crumble.
The eruption heard from 800 km around
“We immediately knew it was a tsunami, with this water gushing into the house.
You could hear screams all around, and everyone started fleeing to higher ground,” she added.
The king of Tonga, Tupou VI, was evacuated from the royal palace of Nuku'alofa and taken to a villa far from the coast.
The eruption lasted eight minutes, and was so loud it was heard "like a sound of distant thunder" over the Fiji Islands, more than 800 km away, Fiji officials said.
They also warned residents to cover water supplies to protect them from acid rain or ash.
Victorina Kioa, from the Tonga Public Utilities Commission, called on people to "get away from all places that are at risk, ie beaches, reefs and all flat coasts".
DX_World: RT @IcanArgue: Pacific Nation of Tonga Issues Tsunami Warning After Undersea Volcano Erupts.
Family stuck in a Church, presumably video from #Nukualofa, the Capital.#Tsunami #Tonga pic.twitter.com/dSqbvPmcfI
— Ea4dl (@Ea4dl_Javier) January 15, 2022
The authorities have also advised the entire population to stay indoors as much as possible, to wear masks if they have to go out and, there too, to protect all water supplies.
Tsunami warnings have also been issued for Fiji and Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
Australian authorities have warned people in Sydney and surrounding New South Wales to "get out of the water, and stay away from the water's edge".
In Chile, the National Emergency Situations Office has warned of the possibility of a "minor tsunami" reaching Easter Island and other Chilean archipelagos.
The evacuated beaches
"As a precautionary measure, in the Juan Fernández Archipelago, the San Félix Islands, Easter Island and Chilean Antarctica, it is requested, due to the eruption of a volcano in the Tonga Islands, to leave the areas of beaches where a minor tsunami could intervene,” said Onemi.
Tsunami hits Tonga after underwater volcanic eruption
The #Pacific island of #Tonga experienced a large #volcanic eruption on Saturday followed by a #tsunami that flooded parts of the capital, #Nuku'alofa.#Tongatsunami #volcanoeruption #naturaldisaster #anews pic.twitter .com/pPZzlcFivW
— ANews (@anews) January 15, 2022
In the United States, tsunami warnings have been issued for the country's west coast, with Hawaii having already been hit by "minor flooding". “Leave the beaches, ports and marinas” in the affected areas, recommends the National Weather Service, which specifies with “relief” that the American islands of Hawaii did not report damage and only suffered flooding minors.
The states of California, Oregon and Washington could be affected, as well as Alaska and the Canadian province of British Columbia, specifies the NWS.
“The main expected impacts are strong rip currents and flooding of coasts and low-lying areas,” warns the weather service.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano is located on one of the uninhabited islands of Tonga, about 65 km from the capital Nuku'alofa.