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In this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows an underwater volcanic eruption in the Tonga Pacific country on Saturday, January 15, 2022.

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In this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows an underwater volcanic eruption in the Tonga Pacific country on Saturday, January 15, 2022.

AP

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) An underwater volcano erupted spectacularly near the Tongan Pacific nation on Saturday, sending huge waves crashing along the coast and people rushing to higher ground.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, as communication with the small nation remained problematic. The video posted on social media showed huge waves pouring ashore in coastal areas, circling around houses and buildings.

The New Zealand Army said it was monitoring the situation and remained on alert, ready to assist if required.

Satellite images showed a huge explosion. Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami alert was in effect for all of Tonga, and data from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center indicated that 80-centimeter (2.6-foot) waves had been detected.

Authorities in the nearby island states of Fiji and Samoa also issued warnings, urging people to avoid the coastline due to strong currents and dangerous waves. The Japan Meteorological Agency said there could be a slight bounce of water along the Japanese coast but it is not expected to cause any damage.

The Islands Business news site reported that a column of police and military troops evacuated King Tupou VI of Tonga from his palace off the coast. He was among the many residents who set off for a higher area.

Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption was the latest in a series of spectacular eruptions.

A Twitter user identified as Dr. Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted a video showing the waves crashing ashore.

“Can I literally hear the volcano erupting, it sounds quite violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “It’s raining ash and small pebbles, darkness covering the sky.”

Earlier, news site Matangi Tonga reported that scientists observed massive eruptions, thunder and lightning near the volcano as it began to erupt early Friday.

The site said satellite images showed a 5-kilometer-wide plume of ash, steam and gas rising into the air at about 20 kilometers (12 miles).

More than 2,300 miles (1,400 miles) away in New Zealand, officials were warning of storm surges from the blast.

The National Emergency Management Agency said some parts of New Zealand could expect “strong and unusual currents and unpredictable waves on the shore after a major volcanic eruption”.

Late Saturday, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the threat to American Samoa seemed to have passed, although minor sea fluctuations could continue.

The volcano is located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of the capital, Nuku’alofa. In late 2014 and early 2015, a series of eruptions in the area created a small new island and disrupted international air travel in the Pacific archipelago for several days.

Tonga is home to about 105,000 people.

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