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Tonga volcano update: Volcanic eruption triggers tsunami warnings in far-flung Japan, floods 10,000 km from epicentre

The volcano has erupted on a regular basis over the past decades but the eruption on Saturday was so loud that residents in faraway Fiji said they heard it.

The eruption also triggered tsunami warnings in Australia, and the Pacific Islands of New Vanuatu, Fiji, American Samoa, Macquarie Island, Lord Howe Island, and Norfolk Island. (Twitter/1NewsNZ)
The eruption also triggered tsunami warnings in Australia, and the Pacific Islands of New Vanuatu, Fiji, American Samoa, Macquarie Island, Lord Howe Island, and Norfolk Island. (Twitter/1NewsNZ)

Tonga tsunami warning: The undersea volcanic eruption that triggered a 7.4 magnitude earthquake near Tonga caused tsunami waves and flooding in US, South America, and Canada — nearly 10,000 km from the epicentre. The eruption also triggered tsunami warnings in Australia, and the Pacific Islands of New Vanuatu, Fiji, American Samoa, Macquarie Island, Lord Howe Island, and Norfolk Island.

The eight-minute eruption of the undersea Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano caused “loud thunder sounds”, reports said. The volcano has erupted on a regular basis over the past decades but the eruption on Saturday was so loud that residents in faraway Fiji, nearly 800 km away, and New Zealand said they heard it. Rumblings continued to be heard through the night as thousands of people were moved to evacuation centres.

The island nation with nearly 105,000 residents is located 2,383 km northeast of New Zealand.

Tsunami waves reaching heights of 1.3 m were recorded in California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and British Columbia in Canada. Japan also advised citizens in parts of the country to evacuate as waves of more than a metre high hit the coastal areas.

A second tsunami also hit Tonga after the massive eruption. The country remains uncontactable with the tsunami severing telephone and Internet links. There are also no official reports of deaths or injuries amid limited communications, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. Contact is yet to be established with coastal areas beyond Nuku’alofa, the capital.

Ardern said the main undersea communications cable had likely been hit due to loss of power. Power has been restored in some parts of the islands and local mobile phones are starting to work, she said.

Satellite images captured Saturday’s eruption as the explosion sent plumes of smoke about 12 miles above sea level. Experts said the ash could contaminate drinking water and cause respiratory issues.

While official damage assessments are not available, Ardern told Reuters that the New Zealand High Commission in Nuku’alofa had said that the tsunami damaged shops, boats, and other infrastructure.

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