6:30pm Saturday 15 January 2022. The underwater volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai erupted on Friday with further activity on Saturday afternoon, sending ash, steam and gas 20km into the air.
Tonga’s Meteorological Services says a tsunami warning is in place for all of the islands of the Kingdom and the population is racing to evacuate in complete darkness as a wall of water surges inland.
“A volcanic explosion just erupted and people have evacuated to higher ground now from possible tsunami waves also ash shards are falling and now the ash clouds are covering the island of Tongatapu,” one witness wrote.
“We live in Kolomotu’a near the ocean so we have left already and we are in our cars heading out but traffic on every road. Please pray for us and our family and for safety.”
A video filmed by Dr Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau and posted to Twitter, shows a massive surge of water inundating the land as it pours in.
People are rushing to evacuate in complete darkness. Images show traffic crawling to safety with their headlines on.
“Raining ash and tiny pebbles, darkness blanketing the sky,” Dr Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted.
Tonga Geological Services head Taaniela Kula said the eruption had a radius of 260km.
It was about seven times more powerful than the last eruption on December 20 last year and continuing to grow, Kula said.
A tsunami warning remains in place as the volcanic activity affects coastal water levels.
The maximum tsunami wave recorded by the Nuku’alofa tide gauge on Friday afternoon at 12.30pm and was about 30cm, and sea level fluctuation has been observed.