WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — An undersea volcano erupted in spectacular fashion Saturday near the Pacific nation of Tonga, sending large tsunami waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground. A tsunami advisory was in effect for Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. Pacific coast.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or on the extent of the damage because all internet connectivity with Tonga was lost at about 6:40 p.m. local time, said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for the network intelligence firm Kentik.
Tonga gets its internet via an undersea cable from Suva, Fiji, which presumably was damaged. The company that manages that connection, Southern Cross Cable Network, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Tonga's Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military troops evacuated King Tupou VI from his palace near the shore. He was among the many residents who headed for higher ground.
In Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves that measured half a meter (1.6 feet) in Nawiliwili, Kauai and 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) in Hanalei. The National Weather Service said there were reports of boats getting pushed up in docks, but the hazard was diminishing.
"We are relieved that there is no reported damage and only minor flooding throughout the islands," the tsunami center said, describing the situation in Hawaii.
On Tonga, home to about 105,000 people, video posted to social media showed large waves washing ashore in coastal areas, swirling around homes, a church and other buildings. Satellite images showed a huge eruption, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a mushroom above the blue Pacific waters.
New Zealand's military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on standby, ready to assist if asked.
The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning was declared for all of the archipelago, and data from the Pacific tsunami center said waves of 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) were detected.
A Twitter user identified as Dr. Faka'iloatonga Taumoefolau posted video showing waves crashing ashore.
"Can literally hear the volcano eruption, sounds pretty violent," he wrote, adding in a later post: "Raining ash and tiny pebbles, darkness blanketing the sky."
The explosion of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano was the latest in a series of dramatic eruptions.
Earth imaging company Planet Labs PBC had been watching the island in recent days after a new volcanic vent there began erupting in late December.
Satellite images captured by Planet Labs show how drastically the volcano had shaped the area, creating a growing island off Tonga.
"The surface area of the island appears to have expanded by nearly 45% due to ashfall," Planet said days before the latest activity.
Following Saturday's eruption, residents in Hawaii, Alaska and along the U.S. Pacific coast were advised to move away from the coastline to higher ground and to pay attention to specific instructions from their local emergency management officials, said Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska.
"We don't issue an advisory for this length of coastline as we've done - I'm not sure when the last time was - but it really isn't an everyday experience," Snider said.
He said the waves slamming ashore in Hawaii were just under the criteria for a more serious tsunami warning.
"The important thing here is the first wave may not be the largest. We could see this play out for several hours," he added. "It looks like everything will stay below the warning level, but it's difficult to predict because this is a volcanic eruption, and we're set up to measure earthquake or seismic-driven sea waves."