Australia and New Zealand issue tsunami warnings after South Pacific undersea volcano erupts off Tonga

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The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning had been put in force for all of Tonga. (Supplied: Dr Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau)

An underwater volcano off Tonga has erupted, triggering a tsunami warning for several South Pacific island nations, including Australia and New Zealand.

Video posted to social media showed large waves washing ashore in Tongan coastal areas on Saturday, and photos showed ash falling from the sky.  

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), which issued warnings for coastal areas across eastern Australia, said the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano near Tonga erupted at 3.10pm AEDT on Saturday.

Tsunami waves had been observed as a result of the eruption, it said.

“The size of these waves means the threat is for the marine environment for the east coast of Australia, and for land on Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island; however the situation will be closely monitored and warnings updated as required,” the BOM said in a statement.

“People in land-warning zones are strongly advised to move 1 kilometre inland or go to high ground at least 10 metres above sea level.

“While evacuations are not necessary for marine warning zones, people in these areas are advised to leave the water and move away from the immediate water’s edge.”

The statement said tsunami waves are more powerful than beach waves of the same size.

“There will be many waves and the first wave may not be the largest,” it said.

The BOM issued marine warnings for parts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

  • QLD: Sandy Cape to Point Danger
  • NSW: All coastal areas
  • VIC: Lakes Entrance to Gabo Island
  • TAS: Flinders Island to South East Cape

The BOM tsunami threat also extends to Macquarie Island, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island.

Early on Sunday morning, the NSW State Emergency Service (SES) ordered evacuations of low-lying parts of Lord Howe Island.

Big waves on Gold Coast and Twofold Bay

According to the BOM, large waves have been observed on Australia’s east coast, with Queensland’s Gold Coast seeing waves of up to 0.82 metres and Twofold Bay in southern NSW recording 0.77 metre waves.

Norfolk Island has observed waves of up to 1.27 metres. 

Tsunami impacts of unusual currents and waves have also been recorded at Lord Howe Island and Derwent Park in Hobart. 

New Zealand warning for north and east coasts

New Zealand’s emergency management agency issued an advisory on tsunami activity for its north and east coasts.

The areas, some 2,300 kilometres from Tonga’s volcano, were expected to experience strong and unusual currents, and unpredictable surges at the shore.

The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning had been put in force for all of the island nation.

Fiji issued a tsunami warning, urging residents to avoid the shorelines “due to strong currents and dangerous waves”.

Tsunami waves measuring 60 centimetres in height were also observed by sea-level gauges at the capital of American Samoa, Pago Pago, following volcanic activity in Tonga, the US-based Pacific tsunami warning centre said.

The tsunami threat continues and sea-level fluctuations and strong ocean currents pose hazards along beaches in harbours, the tsunami monitor said in a statement.

Several hours later, a tsunami advisory was issued for Washington state on the north-western US coast, which includes the major city of Seattle. 

“The National Tsunami Warning Center has issued a TSUNAMI ADVISORY for the Washington coast, resulting from a volcanic eruption near Tonga around 830pm Fri PST,” the statement read on Twitter.

‘Loud thunder’ heard in Fiji

Lasting eight minutes, the eruption could be heard as “loud thunder sounds” in Fiji, more than 800km away, officials in the capital Suva said.

Jese Tuisinu, a television reporter at Fiji One, posted a video on Twitter showing large waves washing ashore with people trying to flee in their cars.

“It is literally dark in parts of Tonga and people are rushing to safety following the eruption,” he said.

The eruption, located about 65 kilometres north of Nuku’alofa, caused a tsunami measuring 1.2 metres, the BOM said.

The federal government is “monitoring the situation and “ready to provide support to Tonga if requested”.

“Tonga is part of our Pacific family and our thoughts are with the entire community dealing with the impact of the volcanic eruption and tsunami,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said.

“Initial assessments are still underway and DFAT is working to ensure Australians in Tonga are safe and accounted for.”


Video: Devastation in Northern Beaches after severe thunderstorm (Sky News Australia)

Devastation in Northern Beaches after severe thunderstorm

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