Tsunami warning issued, cancelled on Saturday

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Volcanic eruption near Tonga required readiness for coastal residents

Jan. 19, 2022 — An underwater volcano erupted at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 14 near the Pacific nation of Tonga. The eruption triggered tsunami warnings from the National Tsunami Warning Center for across the Pacific and along the West Coast of the United States, including the Oregon Coast. 

A second, less powerful, eruption occurred Saturday afternoon around 5:30 p.m. Pacific time.

The Friday eruption was visible from the surface and shot plumes of smoke and fire thousands of feet into the air.

Tsunamis are a series of waves dangerous many hours after initial arrival time. The first wave may not be the largest.

Lane County Emergency Management reported that tsunami advisories mean that a tsunami capable of producing strong currents or waves dangerous to persons near the water is expected or is already occurring. 

In Portland, the National Weather Service warned coastal residents that waves of three to four feet could be expected. Those predictions turned out to be inaccurate, as increases of one to two feet were reported from Lincoln City south to Bandon. 

In Florence, there were no reports of tsunami related damage and minimally higher water levels had receded to normal levels by Sunday afternoon. 

People were asked to stay off the beach and away from waterways during the course of the alert, which lasted until 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

The first waves arrived at the Oregon Coast around 8 a.m. and were expected to continue for up to 24-hours.

Oregon Office of Emergency Management Geologic Hazards Coordinator Althea Rizzo said, “Stay away from port harbors and low-lying beaches, because those strong currents can still cause a lot of damage, and you could be potentially risking your life.” 

Residents living along the Siuslaw River posted photos and recordings, showing gently swelling waves just a little higher than normal.

“It is projected to be seen on the Oregon Coast between 7 and 10 a.m. this morning,” the City of Florence posted in its local tsunami alert. “Please note that this also aligns with today's high tide projected for late this morning. Please stay off the beaches and waterways.” 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a tsunami advisory means, “Take Action — A tsunami with potential for strong currents or waves dangerous to those in or very near the water is expected or occurring. There may be flooding of beach and harbor areas. Stay out of the water and away from beaches and waterways. Follow instructions from local officials.”

According to the NOAA, the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Hapai volcano eruption had a radius of 161 miles and sent ash, steam and debris 121 miles into the air. There have been no deaths reported on the remote Pacific Island due to the eruption and, to this point, higher water levels on Tonga have not caused serious structural damage, although internet connectivity was lost Saturday afternoon.

“Communications remain down and the full extent of the harm to lives and property is currently unknown. What we do know is that Tonga needs immediate assistance to provide its citizens with fresh drinking water and food,” Tongan Parliament Speaker Lord Fakafanua said in a statement shared on social media.

Japan was in a direct line to receive the aftereffects of the volcanic activity, but the Kyodo News reported there was no significant damage due to the earthquake, although waves of between one and two feet were recorded. 

More than 230,000 Japanese citizens were evacuated as a precaution after the initial eruption on Friday. No deaths have been reported as a result of the Tonga eruption in either Japan, Tonga, or the other Pacific islands in the area at this time. 

Rizzo said it is important for people to know if their home, work, school, etc., are in a tsunami inundation zone. For information on tsunami and tsunami hazards visit: www.oregon.gov/oem/hazardsprep/Pages/Tsunami.aspx.

For local information on preparedness, visit Western Lane Emergency Operations Group online at wleog.org.