Tsunami reaches Japan after Tonga eruption
Published on: Sunday, January 16, 2022
By: The Japan Times
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Ships are seen capsized at a port in Muroto, Kochi Prefecture, on Sunday. - Kyodo | Reuters
TOKYO: Japan's Pacific coast was hit early Sunday by tsunami waves following a massive underwater volcanic eruption in the South Pacific the previous day, prompting the weather agency to issue tsunami warnings and advisories, The Japan Times reported. Nearly 230,000 residents were urged to move to high ground.

The Meteorological Agency at one point early Sunday issued a tsunami warning for the northeastern prefecture of Iwate and the southwestern islands of Amami and Tokara in Kagoshima Prefecture, predicting waves as high as 3 meters, but later downgraded the warnings to advisories.

All the advisories were revoked by 2pm Sunday.

A 1.2-metre tsunami was observed in the city of Amami shortly before midnight Saturday, while a 1.1-meter tsunami arrived in Kuji, Iwate, at 2:26am Sunday.

According to the agency, a small tsunami of less than 1 meter was observed across a wide area of the country's Pacific coast, from Hokkaido to Kyushu and Okinawa.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said as of 7:30am Sunday, evacuation orders were in place for 229,200 people living in 108,700 households in eight prefectures — Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Chiba, Tokushima, Kochi, Miyazaki and Kagoshima. The alert included areas hit by the deadly March 2011 tsunami.

Nineteen boats either capsized, sank or floated away in Kochi Prefecture, while five capsized in Tokushima Prefecture and one in Mie Prefecture. Japan Airlines also canceled 27 flights at airports across the country.

Due to the tsunami warnings and advisories, the second day of the two-day unified university entrance exams was canceled at a venue in the city of Miyako in Iwate, and the starting time was delayed by more than an hour at a venue in Sendai and one in Togane, Chiba Prefecture.

In Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, which was severely damaged by the 2011 tsunami, people evacuated to a temple that sits on high ground following a warning at around 3am Sunday.

Tadateru Sugawara, 17, and his friend Ryosuke Nishino, 17, said they evacuated even before then, doing so immediately after hearing a tsunami advisory siren. They said they always had in their mind where to evacuate in case of emergency.

Eno Shibasaki, a 65-year-old priest at the temple, who witnessed the carnage wrought by the 2011 tsunami, said he was happy to see young people move quickly in response to the tsunami threat.

"I don't want anyone else to lose their lives," he said. "It's a very good thing that young people were some of the first to evacuate."

Following the tsunami warning and advisories by the agency, the government set up a liaison section at the Prime Minister's Office to gather information.

The weather agency on Saturday evening had said there was a chance of minor sea level changes in Japan but had ruled out a damaging tsunami and did not initially issue a warning or advisory. The agency then shifted gears shortly after 12am Sunday when the warning was issued, though waves had apparently already arrived in some areas.

A tsunami warning was last issued in the country in November 2016, after a magnitude 7.4 quake rattled northeastern Japan.

Tsunami waves may have been magnified due to changes in atmospheric pressure in wide areas caused by the eruption, according to the agency.

The massive underwater volcanic eruption in Tonga was so powerful it was recorded around the world, scientists said Sunday.

Dramatic satellite images showed the long, rumbling eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano spew smoke and ash in the air, with a thunderous roar heard 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) away in Alaska.

The U.S. Geological Survey recorded Saturday's eruption as being equivalent to a 5.8 magnitude earthquake at zero depth.

Pacific nations and humanitarian groups struggled to establish communications with Tonga on Sunday after the volcanic eruption triggered-tsunami cut telephone and internet connections, raising concerns for the tiny island nation.

Internet and phone lines went down at about 6.40pm local time on Saturday, leaving the 105,000 residents on the islands virtually unreachable.

A 1.2-meter wave swept ashore in the Tongan capital, with locals reporting they had fled to higher ground, leaving behind flooded houses, some with structural damage, and with small stones and ash falling from the sky.

"It was massive, the ground shook, our house was shaking. It came in waves. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby," resident Mere Taufa told the Stuff news website Saturday.

She said water filled their home minutes later and she saw the wall of a neighbouring house collapse.

"We just knew straight away it was a tsunami. Just water gushing into our home.

"You could just hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to get to higher ground."

Tonga's King Tupou VI was reported to have been evacuated from the Royal Palace in Nuku'alofa and taken by a police convoy to a villa well away from the coastline.

By Sunday afternoon, however, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said the threat from the eruption had passed.

The volcano's eruption lasted at least eight minutes and sent plumes of gas, ash and smoke several kilometres into the air.

New Zealand scientist Marco Brenna, a senior lecturer at Otago University's School of Geology, described the impact of the eruption as "relatively mild" but said another eruption with a much bigger impact could not be ruled out.

The eruption was so powerful it was even heard in Alaska, the UAF Geophysical Institute tweeted.

Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai, which lies about 65 km north of Nuku'alofa, has a history of volatility.

In recent years, it breached sea level during a 2009 eruption while in 2015 it spewed so many large rocks and ash into the air that when they settled a new island had formed 2 kilometers long by 1 kilometer wide and 100 meters high.


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