The massive undersea volcanic eruption in Tonga was so powerful it was recorded around the world and triggered a tsunami that inundated Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States, scientists said Sunday.
Dramatic satellite images showed the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano’s long, rumbling eruption spewing smoke and ash into the air, with a thunderous roar heard 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) away in Alaska.
The US Geological Survey recorded Saturday’s eruption as equivalent to a magnitude 5.8 earthquake at zero depth.
But the full extent of the damage in Tonga was unclear on Sunday with communication lines down.
A 1.2-meter (four-foot) wave swept the shoreline of Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital, and locals reported fleeing to higher ground, leaving homes inundated, some with structural damage and small stones and ash. that fell from the sky.
New Zealand scientist Marco Brenna, a senior lecturer at the University of Otago’s School of Geology, described the impact of the eruption as “relatively minor” but said another eruption with a much larger impact could not be ruled out.
Waves of around 1.2 meters hit the Pacific coast of Japan and the Japan Meteorological Agency warned that waves of up to three meters were possible.
In New Zealand, more than 2,300 kilometers from Tonga, 120 people were evacuated from northern coastal areas and several boats were destroyed when a huge wave crashed into a marina.
Australia’s popular Bondi Beach in Sydney was briefly evacuated as a precaution, while in California, coastal streets in Santa Cruz were flooded and closed to traffic.
The Alaska National Weather Service reported that the Alaska Volcano Observatory had recorded the eruption in Anchorage and Fairbanks within “6,000 miles of the volcano.”
Scotland’s Fife weather station tweeted that it was “just amazing to think of the power a shock wave can send around the world” after the eruptions produced a jump in its atmospheric pressure graph.
Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai, which is about 65 kilometers north of Nuku’alofa, has a history of volatility.
In recent years, it broke through sea level during a 2009 eruption, while in 2015 it spewed so many large rocks and ash into the air that when they settled, a new island had formed two kilometers long by one kilometer wide and 100 meters. meters high.