Tonga eruption: 'Strong and unusual currents' expected for North Island coastline after massive blast

Publish Date
Sat, 15 Jan 2022, 10:19PM
Satellite images show the impact of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption near Tonga
Satellite images show the impact of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption near Tonga

Tonga eruption: 'Strong and unusual currents' expected for North Island coastline after massive blast

Publish Date
Sat, 15 Jan 2022, 10:19PM

As Tongan locals urge others to "pray" for them after tonight's massive underwater eruption, New Zealand's National Emergency Management Agency has issued a warning of potential impact along our coastline.

Tongans have been urged to head to high land tonight after the latest eruption of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai; with a tsunami warning being issued shortly before 6pm NZT.

Since then waves of up to 1.5m have surged onshore; with footage shared on social media showing motorists driving away from the raging waves, at least one parked car being swept away and families stuck in church halls near the coastline.

Civil Defence officials stated: "We expect New Zealand coastal areas on the north and east coast of the North Island and the Chatham Islands to experience strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore."

The agency said "Strong currents and surges can injure and drown people. 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 04:00am NZDT Sunday 16 January 2022.

"Strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges will continue for several hours and the threat must be regarded as real until this Advisory is cancelled."

New Zealand's MetService said the eruption had resulted in a "pressure surge" which had been observed in its weather stations across New Zealand tonight.

Meanwhile, officials from both Fiji and American Samoa have also issued warnings to their populations over potential tsunami.

The warning issued in American Samoa states: "A hazardous tsunami may have been generated by this nearby volcano that could soon impact nearby coast.

"Monitoring is underway to evaluate the tsunami threat."

It added that current observations indicated that "tsunami impacts in American Samoa are greater than had been forecast".

Fijian residents, especially those in "low lying coastal areas" have been urged to stay out of the water.

"Strong currents and dangerous waves" had been reported.

New Zealand's WeatherWatch described the event as a "huge volcanic eruption that caused a tsunami in Tonga and turned daylight into darkness ".

It also shared imagery by captured by the Himawari satellite.

WeatherWatch said "the satellite imagery is one of a kind capturing an eruption this big and this clearly".

There have been claims on social media that the eruption was heard by some Kiwis as far away as Papamoa and the Hawke's Bay.

The loud eruption was heard as far away as Fiji, with Anthony Brown – who is in Nadi – telling the Herald: "For the last hour there have been continuous explosive sounds with continuous rumbling, windows rattling and doors rattling."

The US Storm Watch website said that the eruption was "one of the most violent volcano eruptions ever captured on satellite".

Volcanic ash was raining down on the capital city of Nuku'alofa.

When the tsunami warning was announced, police and local authorities advised all residents to move to higher ground.

One local posted on social media: "A volcanic explosion just erupted and people have evacuated to higher ground now from possible tsunami waves also ash shards are falling and now the ash clouds are covering the island of Tongatapu.

"We live in Kolomotu'a near the ocean so we have left already and we are in our cars heading out but traffic on every road. Please pray for us as a family and safety."

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano is located about 30km south-east of Fonuafo'ou island in Tonga. It had been active from December 20, 2021, but was declared dormant on January 11.

On Friday, several Tongan geologists went to observe the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano.

Taaniela Kula, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Lands & Natural Resources – who was in charge of the group – told local media outlet Matangi Tonga: "Yesterday there were massive explosives, thundering lightning within two miles away, we observed and recorded.

"Big day yesterday indeed!. It was great getting out there during the volcano's peak hours. It's a geologist's dream to see actual geological events in process."