Startling satellite images show a massive section of a volcanic island near Tonga collapsing into the ocean right before it erupted Saturday, leaving the entire Pacific on tsunami watch and the isle nation largely out of contact Sunday.
Photos of the uninhabitable island of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai showed the middle third of the land mass “collapsed” beneath the water from the force of the 12-mile-wide erupting volcano underneath.
Such volcano “collapse events” occur when rocks fall off the rumbling land mass into the sea, according to National Geographic.
The natural explosion — which could be heard as far away as Alaska — sent plumes of smoke into the air about 12 miles above sea level and triggered massive tsunamis and evacuations across several Pacific Islands.
Tonga’s capital of Nukuʻalofa is just 40 miles south of the eruption. The island nation’s 105,000 residents were largely uncontactable Sunday, with telephone and Internet links severed and the air filled by smoke.
Casualty reports had yet to come through, and no contact has been made beyond the capital and closer to the volcano, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters Sunday.
“Nuku’alofa is covered in thick plumes of volcanic dust, but otherwise conditions are calm and stable,” Ardern said. “There are parts of Tonga where we just don’t know yet. … We just haven’t established communication.”
Power was being restored in some areas on the islands, and local mobile phones were slowly starting to work, she added.
Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai previously erupted in 2014 and 2015, creating the island seen by satellite Saturday. It began erupting again Dec. 19, National Geographic said. The volcano became increasingly explosive, discharging record-setting levels of lighting.
“I couldn’t believe the numbers I was seeing,” meteorologist Chris Vagasky told the magazine. “You don’t usually see that with a volcano. This is something else. There was nowhere else that was that electric on the planet last night.”
With Post wires