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Tsunami causes ‘significant’ damage in Tonga’s capital; casualty reports await

Tonga
Video showing the sudden eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai underwater volcano on Jan. 15, 2022. |

Tsunami waves crashed across the shore of the Pacific nation of Tonga after the eruption of a huge undersea volcano Saturday, causing “significant” damage in the capital city of Nuku’alofa and bringing the entire U.S. West coast under a tsunami advisory.

As the telephone and internet links remained severed early Sunday, possible casualties remained unknown.

Coastal areas beyond the capital Nuku’alofa remained uncontactable, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference Sunday, Reuters reported. “Nuku’alofa is covered in thick plumes of volcanic dust but otherwise conditions are calm and stable. We have not yet received news from other coastal areas,” Ardern was quoted as saying.

Tonga, which has a population of about 105,000, lies northeast of New Zealand.

Satellite images showed the volcanic eruption Saturday which sent plumes of ash, steam and gas rising like a mushroom about 12 miles above sea level.

The volcano, named Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai, has erupted regularly over the past few decades but the latest eruption was so loud that residents in Fiji and New Zealand heard it, according to Reuters.

Tonga
Video showing tsunami waves crashing across the shore of the Pacific nation of Tonga on Jan. 15, 2022. |

“My entire house was shaking,” Sanya Ruggiero, a consulting communications advisor based in Suva, the capital of Fiji, was quoted as saying. “My doors, windows were all rattling like hell. And mine was not even as bad as others. Hundreds of people ran out of their homes.”

Later, videos appeared on social media showing large waves slamming coastal areas and reaching homes, a church and other buildings, The Associated Press reported.

“It was massive, the ground shook, our house was shaking. It came in waves. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby,” a local resident, Mere Taufa, told the Stuff news outlet.

While official damage assessments were awaited, she added that the New Zealand high commission in the Tongan capital had said the tsunami damaged boats, shops and other infrastructure.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Pacific Office in Suva also had no updates on damages or casualties, according to Al Jazeera, a Qatari government-run news outlet.

An Australian government spokesperson told Reuters that initial assessments were still underway but Australia was ready to provide support to Tonga if requested.

Residents along the U.S. Pacific coast as well as in Hawaii and Alaska had also been advised to move away from the coastline to higher ground.

Savannah Peterson, a resident of Pacifica, California, just south of San Francisco, said the water reached her oceanfront house. “It came up so fast, and a few minutes after that it was down again. It was nuts to see that happen so quickly. I’ve never had water come all the way up to my front door, and today it did.”

“We don’t issue an advisory for this length of coastline as we’ve done — I’m not sure when the last time was — but it really isn’t an everyday experience,” Dave Snider, the tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, was quoted as saying.

The highest waves were recorded in Port San Luis, California (4.3 feet); King Cove, Alaska (3.3 feet); Area Cove, California (3.7 feet); Crescent City, California (3.7 feet); and Port Reyes, California (2.9 feet), CNN reported, citing the National Weather Service.

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