The violent eruption of an underwater volcano near Tonga, in the South Pacific, caused a tsunami that has hit the coasts of this island nation and has also set off alarms in other countries in the region.
“Waves of about 1.2 meters have been recorded in Nuku’alofa”, the capital of Tonga, with 24,500 inhabitants, the Australian Meteorological Service reported on Twitter.
The local authorities of Tonga, with some 71,000 inhabitants, have not reported any victims at the moment, while local media warn that several areas of the country remain incommunicado.
The submarine volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai, located about 65 kilometers north of the Tongan island of Tongatapu, recorded an eruption of about eight minutes at around 5:20 p.m. local time (4:20 GMT) and launched a huge column of ash kilometers high.
The violent explosion was recorded in images taken by satellites, published by the Meteorological Service of the American island of Hawaii.
About 15 minutes later, the fierce onslaught of the waves hit the houses and buildings located on the first line of the north coast of Tongatapu, according to the videos published on social networks by witnesses, some of whom took refuge on the roof of their houses. .
Another of the recordings shows at least five people, including children, sheltered in a local church just as the water begins to hit the windows of the religious compound.
A driver caught the sudden rise of the waters in his flight, which was destroying walls and fences, while another car tried to avoid being caught by traveling in reverse.
The Radio New Zealand station reports scenes of panic where people try to flee to inland areas.
The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai already registered an increase in activity on Friday that temporarily triggered another tsunami alert, but that did not translate into rising waters.
In the face of the current emergency, the Tonga authorities have asked the entire population to stay away from the beaches and coastlines until 4:00 p.m. on Sunday (3:00 GMT) and to wear a mask in the face of the ash rain.
Unlike tsunamis triggered by earthquakes, where tectonic plates unload their force and a second tsunami is unlikely, the volcano could again register a violent eruption that would create another ferocious tidal wave.
In addition to Tonga, the neighboring island states of Fiji, Samoa, and Vanuatu have also issued a tsunami warning, which threatens as far as the coast of New Zealand, more than 2,300 kilometers away from the volcano.
More than 100 families from two towns on the Samoan island of Savaii have been evacuated, police say, while photos posted on social media show waves have hit part of Vanua Levu Island in northeastern Fiji.
Vanuatu authorities called for “immediate evacuation” of coastal areas due to strong currents and waves.
For its part, the New Zealand Emergency Management Agency indicated on Twitter that they expect “strong currents and unusual unpredictable swells” on the north and east coast of the North Island and the Chatham Islands of the oceanic country.