In a shocking development, the peaceful island of Tonga was hit by a huge volcanic explosion on January 15, which was followed by a tsunami that flooded areas of the capital, Nuku’alofa. Witnesses reported ash falling on the capital, Nuku’alofa, and social media footage showed water flooding a church and many residences. Local residents were forced to flee to higher ground when the tsunami warning was issued.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haapai volcano erupted on Saturday, sending shock waves through the South Pacific. The capital of Tonga lies about 65 kilometers north of the volcano. Plumes of gas, smoke and ash from the volcano stretched 20 kilometers into the sky, according to the Tonga Geological Services.

The Fijian government has issued a tsunami warning

Authorities in Suva said the eight-minute eruption was so powerful it could be heard as “loud thunder” more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) away. The Fijian government had issued a tsunami warning and set up evacuation centers for people living along the lower coast, BBC reported.

Storm surges were forecast in New Zealand, more than 2,300 kilometers from Tonga. Coastal areas on the north and east coasts of the North Island could experience unexpected strong currents” as well as “unpredictable shoreline surges”, according to the National Emergency Management Agency.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology tweeted: “No #tsunami threat to Australia from volcanic eruption near TONGA ISLANDS. A 1.2 meter tsunami wave was observed at Nuku Alofa in Tonga at 3.30pm AEDT. We We will continue to monitor the situation.”

According to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in the United States, the wave reached a height of 2.7 feet (83 cm) at Nuku’alofa. Material damage and casualties are yet to be determined. The tsunami pierced the shore and moved through the city, according to footage posted to social media from Tonga. Tsunami waves 2ft in height were observed by sea level monitors in Pago Pago, the capital of the US territory of American Samoa, about 940 kilometers (580 miles) from Tonga, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center .

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai submarine volcano erupted again on Saturday, the latest in a series of eruptions. Saturday’s eruption is the second recorded in the past two days. A previous eruption on Friday threw plumes of ash and smoke into the atmosphere, with clouds of smoke reaching up to 20 kilometers (12 miles). Until December last year, the volcano showed intermittent activity. Authorities advised residents to stay home on Friday to protect drinking water and resources.

(With agency contributions)

Image: Twitter/US_Stormwatch

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