NZ tsunami surge warning cancelled, Nuku‘alofa 'like moonscape'

Source: 1News

Re-live 1News' live coverage of the ongoing situation in Tonga and across the Pacific a day after the large eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga, causing tsunami waves across the region.

What we know so far:

- Much of the communication network in Tonga went down on Saturday night after it was hit by tsunami waves caused by a large eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano before 6pm.

- Information coming out of Tonga is scarce, with reports on Sunday morning that many people are experiencing breathing difficulties as a result of ash from the volcano.

- There has also been damage to boats on the east coast of the North Island.

9.00pm: Many Tongans in Aotearoa were desperate to connect with loved ones in the Pacific kingdom. Melenaite Tohi spoke to 1News about the difficulty of not knowing how loved ones are in Tonga.

7.45pm: Access to Moturiki (Leisure Island) Mount Maunganui's Main Beach has been closed on Sunday because of significant swells and high incoming tide.

7.15pm: The advisory for tsunami activity for all areas of New Zealand is cancelled with the the Beach and Marine threat now having passed for all areas.

"Strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges will continue for up to another 24 hours in some locations around the entire country. People should remain vigilant and take extra precautions with regards to beach and ocean activities," Civil Defence warned.

6.55pm: Watch 1News' lead video report from the 6pm bulletin.

6pm: Acting New Zealand High Commissioner Peter Lund has described what it was like in Nuku'alofa in the moments after the eruption.

“It was pretty scary as the volcanic ash started to hit the car and the skies got dark … It was sort of biblical to have this volcanic ash raining down on you and not knowing where we were heading.”

5.50pm: The Tongan government is advising people to stay indoors, drink bottled water and wear masks when out and about.

Acting High Commissioner Peter Lund told 1News the skies are calm and the volcanic cloud has moved away. He said the Tongan government is working very hard on its response.

“Thankfully we’re not facing devastation on a mass scale but there will be some serious issues to address given what the volcanic ash has done to the soil and the land.”

5.40pm: Peter Lund says the New Zealand High Commission is waiting to hear reports from Ha’apai group of islands, and a Tongan naval boat is heading out there to assess damage.

“They haven’t been able to establish telephone communication,” he said.

5.35pm: Acting New Zealand High Commissioner Peter Lund says Nuku'alofa looks “like a moonscape” after being blanketed in volcanic ash.

Speaking to 1News from the Tongan capital via satellite phone, Lund said it’s good news that so far there are no official reports of deaths or serious injuries.

“There are a couple of people who are reported missing, but positive news in terms of fatalities and serious injuries.”

He said there is quite a lot of damage on the Nuku'alofa waterfront, and the western coast was “pummelled quite badly”.

5.20pm: Christopher Luxon says the Opposition supports New Zealand standing ready to provide assistance to Tonga.

“Our thoughts are with the people of Tonga as they deal with the damage and distress brought about by the recent tsunami that followed a volcanic eruption," he said.

“I know that there will be many people around New Zealand tonight waiting to hear about their family, friends and loved ones while communication remains unstable, and our thoughts are with them too.

“National’s Pacific Peoples spokesperson Dr Shane Reti has reached out to local Pacific leaders, the Tongan Consul, and Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio on behalf of the Opposition to express our sympathy and offer our support."

Luxon said it's a relief that so far there have been no official reports of injuries or deaths.

“We welcome the Government’s commitment today to providing humanitarian assistance.

“I hope that the Government is poised and prepared to deliver this assistance as quickly as possible including, if appropriate, dispatching the multi-purpose Aotearoa vessel if planes are not able to safely fly over the volcanic ash cloud.

“We must help our Pacific friends and family in any way that we can.”

4.30pm: MetService, which plays an important role in monitoring volcanic eruptions by producing forecasts of ash dispersal, has shared vision of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption.

3.50pm: Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta has issued a statement saying New Zealand stands ready to assist the people of Tonga.

“The New Zealand High Commission in Nuku‘alofa is monitoring the situation closely and is in contact with local authorities,” Mahuta said.

“Anyone in the affected area should follow the advice of the local authorities, including any tsunami evacuation orders, and try to contact their family back in New Zealand.

“Communications links with Tonga have been disrupted so New Zealanders may have difficulties contacting their whānau in Tonga at this time. Authorities are working as quickly as possible to re-establish communication links."

She said the initial $500,000 pledged by the New Zealand Government is available to respond to requests from the Government of Tonga as they come in.

3.25pm: Regarding Tonga's Covid-free status, Ardern said all Defence Force staff are fully vaccinated, and will meet the expectations and protocols they have in Tonga to give confidence that "our people are as safe as possible coming into an environment that is Covid-free”.

3.20pm: The prime minister says a New Zealand Defence Force surveillance flight is ready to deploy as soon as atmospheric conditions allow, and a naval vessel has also been put on standby to assist if needed. Agencies are working on further air and sea options.

The government is announcing a $500,000 donation as "a starting figure".

Ardern says the government will provide assistance as required. She has been in contact with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, and says New Zealand and Australia stand at the ready to assist our Pacific neighbours.

"We want to be be in Tonga and on the ground as soon as we are possibly able to,” Ardern said.

She said a clear indication from Tonga was the need for water.

3.15pm: Ardern urged people to follow the advice of local authorities.

"Although there is no ongoing large eruption, further activity cannot be ruled out at this stage."

She said local mobile phones are working, and encouraged residents to "keep family back in New Zealand informed of your wellbeing if you can".

3.10pm: The PM says communication with Tonga remains very limited.

"Telecommunication authorities are working urgently to restore communication," she said.

She said the main undersea communications cable has been impacted, likely due to the loss of power.

3.05pm: Jacinda Ardern says as yet "there are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga".

2.55pm: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to provide an update on the situation at 3pm alongside ministers Peeni Henare and Aupito William Sio. Watch the media conference live here.

2.45pm: Civil Defence’s National Emergency Management Agency has cautioned people in coastal areas to take extra care today.

2.30pm: Strong surges in New Zealand's Far North prompted evacuations and caused boats to sink overnight. Images show damage to boats at Tūtūkākā Marina.

2.10pm: New images have emerged showing the extent of the damage in Ha'apai, central Tonga.

Images from Ha'apai show the extent of the damage.
A damaged street in Ha'apai, central Tonga.

1.10pm: A dramatic video has captured the moment a massive shockwave boomed through the air after a large eruption of Tonga's Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano late on Saturday afternoon.

12.55pm: MFAT says 30 Kiwis are currently registered on SafeTravel as being in Tonga.

It also says New Zealand has formally offered to give Tonga assistance and an initial $500,000 has been set aside.

12.40pm: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and ministers Peeni Henare and Aupito William Sio will be holding a stand-up on the situation in Tonga at 3pm.

12.25pm: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has taken to social media to say images of the volcanic eruption so close to Tonga are “hugely concerning”.

“Communication as a result of the eruption has been difficult, but our defence force team and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are working as we speak to establish what’s needed and how we can help. … I know we are thinking of our pacific friends and family.”

Ardern told her followers she will be giving another update at 3pm.

11.50am: Spark says it is waiving all charges for calls to Tonga from landlines and mobiles until next Sunday.

“We know immediate contact may not be possible, due to infrastructure damage in Tonga but want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to connect with kâinga when they can,” it said in a tweet.

11.25am: A number of New Zealand politicians have taken to Twitter to offer their thoughts and prayers to the people of Tonga. Politicians include Labour’s Jenny Salesa and National leader Christopher Luxon.

11.05am: The US Tsunami Warning System has issued advice for the Pacific, US Pacific coast, Hawaii and Alaska.

10.50am: Lifeguards say they have closed Whangamatā beach due to the “very rough sea and swell conditions made worse by the volcanic activity in Tonga”.

10.25am: The Mauao base track in Mount Maunganui has been closed on Sunday as a result of the tsunami surge warning.

10.20am: Tsunami waves have also hit the Californian coast.

9.55am: The tsunami activity national advisory has been extended to include the west coast of the South Island.

It too can expect to experience strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore.

Civil Defence’s National Emergency Management Agency released the update just before 9.45am.

9.20am: Experts in New Zealand have described the large eruption as “very significant” and “remarkable”.

Dr Emily Lane from NIWA described it as “very significant” due to the eruption cloud and shock wave being captured by satellite, the eruption being heard in New Zealand and the tsunami being recorded on gauges here, more than 2500km away.

Professor Shane Cronin from the University of Auckland’s School of Environment said the eruption was “remarkable” for the same reasons.

“This suggests the eruption of large volumes of gas-charged magma at Hunga volcano,” he said.

“The January 15 eruption is so large that it is likely to be an event that alters the caldera … Further eruptions from this caldera during this episode could generate new tsunami and widespread ashfall, especially if there caldera has further collapses or landslides.”

Cronin said “significant” ashfall was likely in Tongatapu as well as the Ha’apai group of islands.

The sky in Tonga has been described on social media as "pitch black" thanks to ashfall.

8.45am: Civil Defence Northland has confirmed there has been damage to boats at Tutukaka Marina. Photos on social media show one boat driven up onto rocks. Others show damage has occurred to the marina itself and some boats have sunk at their moorings.

8.30am: Video has emerged of a vehicle in Tonga being swept away by tsunami waves. A house partially submerged in water can also be seen. People can be seen watching the drama unfold from a nearby bank.

8.15am: A spokeswoman for the New Zealand Defence Force says it is currently monitoring the situation in Tonga and stands ready to assist if requested by the Tongan Government.

8am: Meanwhile, a tsunami watch previously in place in Samoa has been cancelled. However a tsunami advisory remains in effect due to ongoing eruptions. People in Samoa in low-lying coastal areas are advised to stay away from the sea and beaches.

7.45am: There have also been reports that a rescue operation is underway in Atata, a small island off Nukuʻalofa, which was completely submerged by the tsunami waves.

New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency says tsunami activity continues to be observed. It is expected coastal areas on the north and east coast of the North Island and the Chatham Islands will experience strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges.

People are being asked to stay off beaches and shore areas. There is no need to evacuate unless advised by local civil defence authorities. Coastal inundation is not expected.

7.30am: Access to fresh drinking water looks to be a major issue in Tonga on Sunday. Drinking water was delivered by its National Emergency Management Office to the islands of Fonoi and Mango prior to the eruption and subsequent tsunami waves.

7.15am: With communication down in Tonga, information coming out of the island kingdom is scarce. There have been reports of people struggling to breathe as a result of the ash from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano.