11 July 2024

An underwater volcano off Tonga erupted on Saturday, triggering tsunami warnings and evacuation orders in Japan and causing large waves in several South Pacific islands, where footage on social media showed waves crashing into coastal homes.

Japan’s meteorological agency issued tsunami warnings in the early hours on Sunday and said waves as high as three metres (9.84 feet) were expected in the Amami islands in the south. Waves of more than a metre were recorded there earlier.

Public broadcaster NHK said no damage or casualties had been reported, interrupting its regular programming to report on the tsunami advisory spanning the entire eastern coast of the Japanese archipelago issued by the country’s meteorological agency.

In a briefing, a Japan Meteorological Agency official urged people not to go near the sea until the tsunami advisory and more serious tsunami warnings had been lifted. The warnings – the first in more than five years – covered several specific areas.

He said the change in sea levels observed did not follow a familiar pattern of tsunamis following earthquakes.

“We do not know yet whether these (waves) are actually tsunami,” he told the briefing.

Tsunami waves were observed in Tonga’s capital and the capital of American Samoa, a U.S.-based tsunami monitor said, following the eruption at 0410 GMT of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano.

The volcano, which lies about 65 km (40 miles) north of Nuku’alofa, caused a 1.2-metre (four-foot) tsunami wave, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said.

The bureau said it continued to monitor the situation but no tsunami threat had been issued to the Australian mainland, islands or territories.