WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — An undersea volcano erupted in spectacular fashion near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large tsunami waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground.
As communications with this small country remained difficult, there were no immediate reports on injuries and the extent of damage. Social media video showed huge waves washing over homes and buildings in areas along the coast.
New Zealand’s military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on standby, ready to assist if asked.
Satellite imagery showed an enormous eruption. A plume of steam, gas, and ash rose like a mushroom high above blue Pacific waters.
According to the Tonga Meteorological Services, a tsunami alert was in effect for the entire archipelago. Data from the Pacific Tsunami warning Center indicated that waves measuring 80 cm (2.6 feet), had been recorded.
American Samoa residents were notified by broadcasters and church bells, which rang across the territory about the tsunami warning. A siren outside was not in use. The residents living on the shoreline moved quickly to higher ground.
The alert was canceled by the Hawaii-based Tsunami Center as night fell. There were no reports of damage.
Fijian and Samoa authorities also warned people not to cross the coast due to dangerous waves and strong currents. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, there could be slight swelling along Japan’s coasts but this is not likely to cause damage.
The 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 one of many who fled for higher ground.
The explosion of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano was the latest in a series of spectacular eruptions.
A Twitter user identified as Dr. Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted video showing waves crashing ashore.
“Can literally hear the volcano eruption, sounds pretty violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “Raining ash and tiny pebbles, darkness blanketing the sky.”
Matangi Tonga’s news site earlier reported that scientists had seen thunder and lightning close to the volcano shortly after it began erupting on Friday morning. Satellite imagery showed that a plume measuring 5 kilometers (3 miles) in diameter rose into the air, reaching 20 km (12 miles) high.
New Zealand officials warned that storm surges could occur at more than 2,300km (1,400 mile) from New Zealand.
The National Emergency Management Agency said some parts of New Zealand could expect “strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore following a large volcanic eruption.”
The volcano is located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of the capital, Nuku’alofa. A series of volcanic eruptions created an island in the region in late 2014, and the disruption to international flight travel to the Pacific archipelago was sustained for many days.
About 105,000 people call Tonga home.
This report was contributed by Mari Yamaguchi, Tokyo, and Fili Sagpolutele, Pago Pago (American Samoa).