A tsunami warning has been issued for Hawaii and parts of the U.S. west coast after an underwater volcanic eruption in the pacific sent massive waves onto Tonga’s largest island, leaving parts of its capital city underwater.
The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano exploded off the coast of Tonga’s largest island, Tongatapu, early Saturday morning. The eruption sent ash and gas up to 8 miles in the air and lasted between 10-15 minutes, according to the Tonga Geological Services.
Waters flowed through the streets of Nuku’alofa and swept into some coastal properties. Tonga’s King Tupou VI was evacuated from his palace near the shore after the tsunami flooded the capital, according to RNZ. Residents near the shore were also forced to flee to higher ground.
While there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, the small island nation remained without communication and cut off from the rest of the world hours after the eruption.
A tsunami warning has been issued for the islands of Tonga as well as for New Zealand’s North Island and the west coast of the United States, stretching from California to Alaska, as well as British Columbia in Canada.
In Hawaii and Alaska, residents were asked to move away from the coastline and to find higher ground, said Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska.
“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,” he said. “I hope that elevates the importance and severity for our citizens.”
Snider said waves already hitting the Hawaii shore were just under the criteria for a more serious tsunami warning, with measurements of 2.7 feet in Hanalei and Maui. They would have to measure 3 feet or more to trigger a more severe warning.
Along other parts of the west coast, waves are reaching heights between 1 and 2 feet.
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