Tonga hit by tsunami after volcanic eruption

By Adrienne Vogt

Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT) January 15, 2022
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4:46 p.m. ET, January 15, 2022

These are the latest maximum observed wave heights on the West Coast

Most of the US West Coast remains in a tsunami advisory in the wake of an underground volcanic eruption near Tonga.

The highest waves were recorded in Port San Luis, California (4.3 feet); King Cove, Alaska (3.3 feet); Area Cove, California (3.7 feet); Crescent City, California (3.7 feet); and Port Reyes, California (2.9 feet), according to the National Weather Service.

Here's a look at the latest numbers:

4:02 p.m. ET, January 15, 2022

California official explains why even 1- to 2-foot waves can be dangerous

A harbor official pulls debris from rising waters out of Santa Cruz harbor in Santa Cruz, California, on January 15.
A harbor official pulls debris from rising waters out of Santa Cruz harbor in Santa Cruz, California, on January 15. (Nic Coury/AP)

Santa Cruz, California, Fire Department Chief Rob Young explained why even smaller waves can quickly become a threat.

Young told CNN's Jessica Dean in an interview that the first initial 1- to 2-foot tsunami wave was at about 7:40 a.m. PT, which coincided with high tide, and then a larger wave occurred around 8:50 a.m.

"I was at our harbor, where our surge was approximately 7 feet. So before we have the wave come in to increase the level, it draws everything out of the harbor, and then it comes in. And so it was about a 7-foot increase inside of about 3 minutes, so it creates a strong current, and then damage occurred in the harbor to some of the docks," he said.

"When it comes, it comes quickly. That's the difference. Not just a 1-foot wave, but it comes in a surge because it draws all the water out first and then it comes in," he added.

Santa Cruz has closed its beaches for safety reasons.

"Even though they don't look like they're dangerous at the time, there's a reason for it," he said.

"Everybody that was walking up to us in between said, 'well, it's 1 to 2 feet, what's the big deal?' And then when they saw the high mark on these docks, they realized that's 6 feet higher than right now, and the swing happens that fast. So if you're out on a beach and you have a 6-foot increase in the water level inside of 3 minutes, you may be stuck in the water and not able to exit," he said.

4:42 p.m. ET, January 15, 2022

Here's where the latest tsunami advisories are in the US

Tsunami advisories are currently in place for most of the West Coast of the United States and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

Advisories have ended for Hawaii, southeast Alaska and some of the British Columbia coastline.

Here's the definition of a tsunami advisory:

3:35 p.m. ET, January 15, 2022

Multiple tsunamis reported along Japan's coast, but no damage reported

From CNN's Jennifer Hauser

Tsunami advisories and warnings remain all along the coast of Japan following an underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

The highest tsunami observed in Japan following the Tonga eruption was 120 centimeters (3.9 feet) in Amami Oshima Island in Kagoshima prefecture, followed by a 110-centimeter (3.6 feet) tsunami at Kuju Port in Iwate Prefecture, NHK said.

Ninety-centimeter (about 2.9 feet) waves were reported on Chichijima Island in Tokyo Prefecture, Tosa-Shimizu in Kochi, Gobo in Wakayama, Hamanaka Town in Hokkaido and Kushimoto Town in Wakayama. 

There were 80-centimeter (about 2.6 feet) waves in Muroto in Kochi Prefecture and Hachijojima Island in Tokyo Prefecture. Several other locations reported waves of 70 centimeters (about 2.2 feet) and 60 centimeters (about 1.9 feet), as well as several smaller ones.

The Japan Coast Guard is assessing if there has been any damage, but so far none has been reported. It is still very dark, and more waves are expected, according to NHK. Officials are asking people to stay alert and stay away from beaches. 

Earlier footage shared on NHK by a viewer in Setouchi Town on Amami Oshima Island showed bumper-to-bumper cars evacuating to higher ground. 

Footage on NHK also showed people sleeping on floors in evacuation centers in Iwate Prefecture where a tsunami warning remains.

2:49 p.m. ET, January 15, 2022

California woman says waves came up to her door

From CNN's David Williams

Savannah Peterson captured waves crashing against the seawall in Pacifica, Calif., on Saturday morning.

Petersen lives near the Pacifica Municipal Pier and said some of the waves came all the way up to her door.

"It can get dicey like this during the King Tides but the changing level of the tide due to the tsunami was remarkable. Varying sea levels paired with high tide to make for a very scary morning. No damage really yet," she told CNN over Twitter.

A tsunami advisory is in place for the West Coast following an underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga.

1:57 p.m. ET, January 15, 2022

Tsunami warning in place for parts of Japan following volcanic eruption near Tonga

From CNN's Jennifer Hauser

Japan's Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning for some areas after a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific near Tonga.

"Japan's Meteorological Agency has issued a tsunami warning for the southern Amami island and Tokara island chain in Kagoshima Prefecture and a tsunami advisory for all coastal areas facing the Pacific Ocean. A three-meter tsunami is expected to reach Japan following an undersea volcanic eruption off the Pacific nation of Tonga," Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported.

The highest tsunami observed so far is 120 centimeters, or about 3.9 feet, in the Kominato district of Amami-Oshima Island at 11:55 p.m. on Saturday [9:55 a.m. ET], according to NHK.

The tsunami warning was also expanded to the northern Japan prefecture of Iwate, NHK reported, and people are urged to stay away from beaches.

1:49 p.m. ET, January 15, 2022

The White House is monitoring tsunami advisories in the US

From CNN's Arlette Saenz

The White House, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is “closely monitoring” the tsunami advisory situation “in case any local needs arise,” according to an official.

A FEMA spokesperson tweeted that the agency does not expect damages from the tsunami but is deploying a FEMA liaison officer to offer support if needed.

“While we don’t expect damages from the tsunami, to ensure rapid support to state, tribal & local partners, we’ve deployed a @fema liaison officer to California State Operations Center,” Jaclyn Rothenberg, a FEMA spokesperson, tweeted Saturday. “We’ve coordinated w/partners in American Samoa & Hawaii & they have no impacts from this event.”

A tsunami advisory was canceled in Hawaii but remains in place for the West Coast following an underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga.

1:43 p.m. ET, January 15, 2022

Tsunami advisory canceled for Hawaii

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has canceled the tsunami advisory for Hawaii, according to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, following an earlier underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga.

However, the center warned that "small sea level changes, strong or unusual currents may persist for several additional hours in some coastal areas," and boaters and swimmers should exercise caution.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency advised residents to "rely on local authorities for guidance on when it is safe to re-enter coastal areas."

There are “no reports of major damage so far," according to Adam Weintraub, the agency's communications director, but authorities are still assessing for any damage. 

"We’re working with the counties to get a better picture of the impact,” he added.

A tsunami advisory is still in effect for the US West Coast, stretching from Alaska to California.

1:12 p.m. ET, January 15, 2022

Santa Cruz, Calif., city manager says there was minor flooding at the harbor, no homes evacuated

From CNN's Claudia Dominguez

CNN obtained video of high tide coming into a harbor in Santa Cruz, California.
CNN obtained video of high tide coming into a harbor in Santa Cruz, California. (Brad Anderson)

Santa Cruz, Calif., city manager Elizabeth Smith told CNN that there was some “minor flooding" at the city's harbor and that there is a “multi-jurisdictional team” monitoring the surges on Saturday after an underwater volcano eruption near Tonga triggered a tsunami alert for the western coast of the US. 

She added that beaches and the harbor will be closed until noon and that people were evacuated out of stores and the area close to the harbor, but no one was evacuated out of their homes. 

A surf contest was also postponed and expected to resume later today, Smith said. 

Smith said that a second surge “went up 3 feet and then dropped 5 feet,” which she called "pretty interesting."  

Smith said authorities recommended that people not be in the area. They are expecting the high tides to subside by mid-morning and are watching closely for any changes.