Thursday, March 19, 2009

Volcano eruption in Tonga

Spewing clouds of smoke, ash and steam thousands of feet into the sky, these dramatic images and video (below) show the raw power of an undersea volcano erupting.
The spectacular columns blasted out of the South Pacific yesterday six miles off the coast of Tonga's main island Tongatapu. The eruption can be seen clearly from the capital, Nuku'alofa, although residents only reported seeing smoke rising from the sea on Wednesday, two days after it is believed to have begun
'It's a very significant eruption, on quite a large scale,' said Keleti Mafi, head of the country's geological service.

But authorities said today that the eruption does not pose any danger to islanders at this stage, and there have been no reports of fish or other animals being affected.
No warnings have been issued to the coastal villages close to the volcano, which is one of 36 undersea volcanoes clustered in that area. The situation is being helped by trade winds which continue to blow gas and steam away from the island.

Those living nearby said the columns of steam and ash first appeared on Monday morning, after a series of sharp earthquakes were felt in the capital, Nuku'alofa.
'This is not unusual for this area and we expect this to happen here at any time,' Mr Mafi said, adding that a similar eruption took place there in 2002.
Scientists believe the underwater eruption was taking place to the west of the low-lying twin volcanic islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha'apai, within sight of Nuku'alofa.
Large amounts of pumice thrown up by the erupting volcano would be likely to clog beaches on the southern coast of nearby Fiji islands within a short time, he said.
Tonga, a 170-island archipelago about halfway between Australia and Tahiti, is part of the Pacific 'ring of fire' - an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through Vanuatu to Tonga.

The U.S. Geological Survey says that a 7.9 earthquake has struck near Tonga, prompting a tsunami warning for adjacent islands in the South Pacific. The USGS says that the quake struck about 130 miles (200 kilometers) south-southeast of the Tongan capital of Nuku'Alofa at a depth of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers). It struck Friday morning local time. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has issued a tsunami warning for neighboring islands, but it was not immediately known if a tsunami had been generated. It also advises that some coastal areas of Hawaii could see a rise in sea level and strong currents lasting up to several hours.

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