Dramatic images from space captured the eruption in real time, as a huge plume of ash, gas and steam was spewed up to 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) into the atmosphere -- and tsunami waves were sent crashing across the PacificOn social media, footage showed people fleeing as waves inundated Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, and the afternoon sky turned pitch black due to the heavy ash cloud.In 2009, an eruption sent plumes of steam and ash into the air and formed new land above the water, and an eruption in January 2015 created a new island about 2 kilometers wide -- effectively joining up Hunga-Tonga and Hunga-Ha'apai islands.
The volcano erupted again on January 14 and a massive eruption on January 15 sent shockwaves around the world and triggered tsunami waves across the Pacific.
By Monday it had reached Australia's Queensland, according to the state's meteorological service."If you noticed a particularly stunning sunrise, it was the sunlight being scattered by #Volcanic ash from the eruption over in #Tonga," Queensland's Bureau of Meteorology said on Twitter.The ash prevented an Australian reconnaissance flight from departing to assess the damage in the early hours of January 17, though the flight did take off later that morning.Tonga "needs immediate assistance to provide its citizens with fresh drinking water and food," the country's Speaker of the House Lord Fakafanua said in a statement posted to social media.He said "many areas" had been affected by "substantial volcanic ashfall" but "the full extent of the harm to lives and property is currently unknown."New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on January 16 that tsunami waves had a "significant impact" on Nuku'alofa, with boats and large boulders washed ashore.
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