WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — A massive volcanic eruption in Tonga that triggered tsunami waves around the Pacific caused “significant damage” to the island nation’s capital and smothered it in dust, but the full extent was not apparent with communications still cut off on Sunday.
The eruption on Saturday was so powerful it was recorded around the world, triggering a tsunami that flooded Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States.
The capital Nuku’alofa suffered “significant” damage, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, adding there had been no reports of injury or death but a full assessment was not yet possible with communication lines down.
“The tsunami has had a significant impact on the foreshore on the northern side of Nuku’alofa with boats and large boulders washed ashore,” Ardern said after contact with the New Zealand embassy in Tonga.
“Nuku’alofa is covered in a thick film of volcanic dust but otherwise conditions are calm and stable.”
Tonga was in need of water supplies, she said: “The ash cloud has caused contamination.”
There has been no word on damage in the outer islands and New Zealand will send an air force reconnaissance aircraft “as soon as atmospheric conditions allow,” the country’s Defense Force tweeted.
A 1.2-meter wave swept ashore in the Tongan capital with residents reporting they had fled to higher ground, leaving behind flooded houses, some with structural damage, as small stones and ash fell from the sky.
“It was massive, the ground shook, our house was shaking. It came in waves. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby,” resident Mere Taufa told the Stuff news website Saturday.
She said water filled their home minutes later and she watched the wall of a neighboring house collapse.
Dramatic satellite images showed the long, rumbling eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano spew smoke and ash in the air, with a thunderous roar heard 10,000 kilometers away in Alaska.
The US Geological Survey recorded Saturday’s eruption as equivalent to a 5.8-magnitude earthquake at zero depth.
The volcano’s eruption lasted at least eight minutes and sent plumes of gas, ash and smoke several kilometers into the air.
The eruption triggered tsunamis across the Pacific with waves of 1.74 meters measured in Chanaral, Chile, more than 10,000 kilometers away, and smaller waves seen along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico.