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Hunga Volcano erupts, triggering tsunami warnings and blanketing Tonga in darkness

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 1/15/2022 Jessica Storm

An explosive volcanic eruption occurred near the Kingdom of Tonga, a nation of 170 islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, causing tsunami waves and ash to fill the sky.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, local time, a national tsunami marine warning was issued for Tonga, warning residents to avoid coastal areas. Around 7:20 a.m., Tonga Geological Services forecast an imminent eruption for the underwater Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai Volcano after capturing satellite images that detected volcanic ash, steam and gas. The volcano is located about 30 kilometers (19 miles) southeast of Fonuafo'ou Island, Tonga.

Residents reported hearing the volcanic eruption, saying it sounded "violent" at around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, and large waves were crashing onshore by 6 p.m. as residents reported it was raining ash and tiny pebbles as complete darkness covered the sky, despite sunset not arriving until around 7:30 p.m. Taaniela Kula, head of Tonga Geological Services, said the eruption had a radius of 260 km (162 miles) and that residents are advised to stay indoors as much as possible.

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This Himawari visible satellite image shows the eruption of the Hunga volcano as seen from outer space.

Even those across the globe began to take notice of this phenomenon as viewers were astonished by satellite images of the explosive eruption and detection of an immense amount of lightning embedded in the smoke clouds. The Hunga volcano sent ash 20 kilometers (65,600 feet) into the air.

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A tsunami wave was recorded on the Nuku'alofa tide gauge at 12:30 p.m., about 30 cm (12 inches) high. More tsunami waves came onshore, causing severe flooding in residential areas of Nuku'alofa. Residents were rushing to evacuate under the cover of darkness across Tonga around 6:00 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., a tsunami warning was also issued for America Samoa, warning residents to evacuate to higher ground immediately. Shortly after, the tsunami warning was canceled with small sea-level fluctuations still expected. No tsunami threat was expected for Hawaii.

This is not the first time this volcano has erupted, as local news station RNZ reported it was erupting intermittently in late December. The last eruption was on Dec. 20, though Kula said Saturday's eruption was about seven times more powerful and continuing to grow.

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