Terrified locals in Tonga have fled to reach higher ground after the government issued a tsunami warning in response to a 7.3-magnitude earthquake off the island’s coast today.
The earthquake, with a depth of 15.4 miles, struck in the sea at about 128.6 miles east of the southeast of Neiafu, a town in the northeast of the Pacific archipelago nation, shortly before midnight local time.
The government of Tonga issued a tsunami warning and urged locals to ‘more inland immediately’ – but the warning was later lifted.
Officials had earlier warned that hazardous tsunami waves from the earthquake are possible within 186 miles of the quake’s epicentre – meaning the coasts of Tonga, Niue and American Samoa could have been hit.
The 7.3-magnitude earthquake was followed about an hour later by a much smaller quake of 5.1-magnitude in a similar area.
‘There is no longer a tsunami threat from this earthquake,’ said the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center at about 1:30 am.’
The Tonga meteorological service had earlier used social media posts to urge people to ‘remain inland and high ground and please listen to radio until further advised’.
Locals living in the coastal towns of Tonga quickly rushed to evacuate and drove to reach the higher ground.
Video shows long queues of cars forming in the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa, as locals tried to move further inland and away from any impending tsunami waves.
A tsunami advisory was also issued for American Samoa, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC).
An undersea volcano erupted in Tonga on January 14, killing three people, blanketing its main island with a thick layer of volcanic ash and shooting millions of tons of water vapor high up into the atmosphere.
The volcano, which is mostly submerged underwater with only the peak visible above the waves, blew its top late in the evening – an explosion that was visible from space and heard in New Zealand, some 1,400 miles away.
The blast completely destroyed the top of the volcano and triggered a 50ft tsunami that smashed into Tonga’s islands, causing widespread destruction.
Mango and Fonoifua islands, in the Haʻapai chain, were two of the worst hit – with almost all buildings swept away and survivors left living under tarpaulins.