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Where is Tonga and how big is the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano that has erupted?

A massive underwater volcanic eruption has triggered tsunami warnings in the US, Canada and Japan, all coming from one small island in in the Pacific.

Update:
A massive underwater volcanic eruption has triggered tsunami warnings in the US, Canada and Japan, all coming from one small island in in the Pacific.
HANDOUTAFP

On Saturday an underwater volcanic eruption off the coast of Tonga triggered a tsunami that threatened the area’s many islands and caused power outages for thousands of people.

Tonga is a collection of 169 islands in the South Pacific with a combined population of little more than 100,000 people. The vast majority, roughly 70%, of residents live on the main island of Tongatapu.

This latest eruption occurred on an island known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, which is little more than seven years old. The small volcanic island was formed in December 2014 when a subaquatic volcano erupted and sent ash and rock into the air. The hyphenated name is a combination of the two islands on either side of the new landmass.

The volcanic matter cooled upon contact with the seawater and solidified to form a small island of igneous rock. Speaking to the BBC, volcanologist Jess Phoenix explained: "In this case, the ash seemed to have a chemical reaction with the seawater that allowed it to solidify more than it usually would.”

Volcano eruption in Tonga sparks tsunami warnings

The Tongan islands immediately surrounding Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai appear to have borne the brunt of the aftermath but the consequences can be seen in distant countries and continents. Massive waves have been recorded crashing into coastal settlements and destroying homes.

The Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa is just 40 miles south of the eruption and residents have suffered major power outages and a complete drop in internet services. Areas are thought to be covered in ash, but the full extent of the damage and possible injuries is still unknown.

On news station Fiji One television reporter Jese Tuisinu said: "It is literally dark in parts of Tonga and people are rushing to safety following the eruption.”

Japan has issued a tsunami warning and warned of three-metre waves in some areas, reaching the nation’s southern coastline with a height of 1.2 metres. The noise of the eruption could be heard from Japan and national broadcaster NHK announced a tsunami advisory spanning the eastern coast.

The Pacific nation of Fiji has also issued a tsunami warning and warned that people should stay away from the coastline "due to strong currents and dangerous waves".

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