Dramatic footage shows waves rolling through coastal Tongan homes following a massive underwater eruption that prompted a tsunami warning for the Pacific island nation.
The Tongan Meterological Service issued the warning for all of Tonga on Saturday evening, after ongoing underwater volcanic activity.
It comes after Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai erupted again on Friday, sending ash, steam and gas 20 kilometres into the air, RNZ reported.
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Mere Taufa said she was inside the house with her family, getting ready for dinner when they heard and felt the eruption shortly after 7pm.
“It was massive, the ground shook, our house was shaking. It came in waves, my younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby,” Taufa said.
“My first instinct was to take cover under the table, I grabbed my little sister, and screamed at my parents and others in the house to do the same.”
She said next thing they knew water had filled their home.
“We just new straight away it was a tsunami. Just water gushing into our home.”
She saw the walls of one of her neighbours’ homes collapsed, from her own window.
“You could just hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to get to higher grounds.”The volcano is located about 30 kilometres south-east of Fonuafo’ou island in Tonga.
The volcano was erupting intermittently in late December.
A national advisory was issued by the National Emergency Management Agency shortly after 8.15pm, warning it expects coastal areas on the north and east coast of the North Island to experience “strong and unusual currents” and “unpredictable surges at the shore”.
NEMA said there is a danger to swimmers, surfers, people fishing, small boats and anyone in or near the water close to shore.
People in or near the sea should move out of the water, off beaches and shore areas and away from harbours, rivers and estuaries until at least 4am on Sunday, and people were warned not to go to the coast to watch “unusual” wave activity.
Coastal inundation (flooding of areas near the shore) is not expected, and there was no need to evacuate other areas unless directly advised by local civil defence authorities, the advisory – issued about 8.15pm – stated.
The currents and surges would continue for several hours and the threat “must be regarded as real” until the advisory is cancelled, NEMA said.
Meanwhile in Tonga, Jese Tuisinu, a reporter at Fiji One, posted a video on Twitter showing it was “dark” in parts of the island, and said people were “rushing to safety” following the eruption.
Former Safety and Protection Cluster Coordinator for the Ministry of Internal Affairs Lavinia Taumoepeau-Latu said she was on the phone with her husband at the time, but lost the connection and had not been able to get back in touch for an hour.
While they were speaking, it went dark and began raining small stones in Tonga.
She said when they were speaking, her husband told her there were people trying to evacuate to higher ground, but as there was only one main road from the town messages on the radio were telling people from central and eastern areas to stay put to allow others to evacuate.
“The area he was at I would imagine was just the dark clouds and stones. The town area and coastal are would have been the focus for tsunami,” she told Stuff.
Mary Fonua, a journalist based in Tonga’s capital Nukuʻalofa, told 1News on Saturday evening that the situation was “precarious”.
“You’ll forgive the wobble in my voice because we’ve had a very frightening hour,” she told 1News.
Fonua said there were a series of “huge explosions” as the volcano, 65km away, erupted and was followed by waves about 15 minutes later, and said “huge, rolling” waves were heading to a nearby, low-lying settlement.
“This long white wave, we could see coming from the horizon. After about three waves it had come over the road and into our garden,” she told 1News.
Fonua said she could see lightning flashing in the direction of the volcano, which she described as “still very active”, and said she could feel ash on her forehead and eyes.
The United States has issued a tsunami advisory for American Samoa.
The US Emergency Alert Twitter page stated a “hazardous” tsunami had been generated by volcanic activity in Tonga, and monitoring was underway to evaluate the threat.
Meanwhile, there have been reports on social media from as far away as neighbouring Fiji – northwest of Tonga – of hearing or feeling the eruption.
Dr Frank Ross, who lives in Suva, Fiji – over 800km away from Tonga – said there had been “constant, on-and-off booms” for over half an hour that were still ongoing at 7pm NZ time.
“The house has been shaking, I’ve figured out that it must have been from this eruption.
I went outside, and it sounded like this constant boom, boom, boom in the distance, but there wasn’t any thunder … it must have been massive,” he said.
“It was even shaking a few minutes ago – it comes and goes, so it must be a series of eruptions. It’s been going on for half an hour or 45 minutes.”
Ross said there were no signs of any disruption to the sea near his home, which he said was about 100m from the sea.
Metservice reported a “pressure surge” from the latest eruption had been observed in weather stations across New Zealand.
People on social media were also reporting hearing ‘sonic booms’ across New Zealand.
Tauranga couple Kris and Tim, who didn’t want their last name used, believed they felt the eruption at around 7.15pm on Saturday while sitting in their living room.
Waves struck the Pacific Island kingdom after the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai erupted.
“We were watching TV and the wind is blowing, birds are tweeting, so over top of all that we heard a very loud rumble, like a boom, and we both looked at each other and said ‘what the heck was that?’.
“It was very intense, it was a low rumble very far away,” they told Stuff.
“It was like Jurassic Park. As if the T-Rex was coming in the distance and the water on the dash is vibrating. That’s what it was like.”
RNZ earlier reported that Tonga Geological Services head Taaniela Kula said the eruption had a radius of 260km.
It was about seven times more powerful than the last eruption on December 20 last year and continuing to grow, Kula earlier told RNZ.