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Undersea Volcano Erupts Near Tonga, Earthquake Raises Tsunami That Never Arrives

By March 20, 2009

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An underwater volcanic eruption and a 7.9-magnitude earthquake near Tonga generated a tsunami on Thursday [March 19, 2009]. A tsunami warning was issued to residents of the island nation, which comprises an archipelago of 171 islands that stretch across a 500-mile expanse of the South Pacific about halfway between Australia and Tahiti.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a tsunami warning for Tonga, Niue, Kermadec Islands, American Samoa, Samoa and Fiji, and radio stations in Tonga broadcast warnings that a tsunami was possible and advised people to move inland for safety. The warnings were largely ignored by islanders—although Fiji took the precaution of closing its schools and government offices—and the warning was canceled not long after the first bulletin was issued.

No damage or injuries were reported in Tonga, the nation closest to the earthquake epicenter, during the first few hours following the earthquake and eruption.

Tonga is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of frequent earthquakes and undersea volcanic activity in the Pacific Ocean that includes roughly 75 percent of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. The eruption occurred amid a cluster of 36 undersea volcanoes. Scientists later confirmed there was no direct link between this most recent earthquake and volcanic eruption near Tonga.

Watch the video for a close look at the geyser of smoke, steam and ash from the undersea volcanic eruption near Tonga on March 19.

Photo by Getty Images

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