Volcano shatters Pacific calm around Tonga

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An undersea volcano that has been erupting for days near Tonga – shooting smoke, steam and ash thousands of feet into the sky – is to be studied by scientists. Officials said the eruption did not pose any danger to islanders at this stage, and there have been no reports of fish or other animals being affected. Spectacular columns are spewing out of the sea west of the islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha'apai in an area where up to 36 undersea volcanoes are clustered, geologists said.

The eruption was visible from Nuku'alofa, the Tongan capital, but trade winds continued to blow gas and steam away from the island yesterday. The deputy police commander, Taniela Faletau, said coastal villages close to the site of the eruption were not yet at risk. Police were waiting for a team of officials and scientists to survey the area before taking any action. Coastal residents said the steam and ash column first appeared on Monday morning following a series of sharp earthquakes.

Tonga, a 170-island archipelago about halfway between Australia and Tahiti, is part of the Pacific "ring of fire" – an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile through Alaska and down through Vanuatu to Tonga.

A powerful magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck 132 miles south-east of Nuku'alofa, Tonga, yesterday, generating a tsunami. However there were no reports of damage or of sea levels rising and the tsunami warning was later cancelled.