Tsunami waves caused by a giant underwater volcanic eruption have hit the Pacific country of Tonga.
Water washed through a church and several homes, according to social media footage, and witnesses said ash was falling over the capital, Nuku’alofa.
Residents fled to higher ground after receiving a tsunami warning.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haapai volcano’s eruption was heard across the South Pacific, reportedly as far as New Zealand and Australia.
Tonga’s capital, Tongatapu, is located just 65 kilometers north of the volcano on the country’s main island.
Mere Taufa, a Tonga resident, said the eruption occurred as her family was preparing for dinner, and her younger brother was killed.
“My first instinct was to take cover under the table, I grabbed my little sister, and screamed at my parents and others in the house to do the same,” New Zealand news site Stuff.co.nz quoted her as saying.
The plumes of gas, smoke and ash pouring from the volcano reached 20km into the sky, Tonga Geological Services said.
Prof Shane Cronin, a volcanologist at the University of Auckland, said the eruption was one of the biggest in Tonga in the past 30 years.
“This is a pretty big event – it’s one of the more significant eruptions of the last decade at least,” he told the BBC.
“The most remarkable thing about it is how rapidly and violently it’s spread. This one was larger, a much wider lateral spread, much more ash was produced. I expect there to be many centimetres of ash that have been deposited on Tonga.”
According to officials in Suva, the initial eight-minute eruption was so violent that it could be heard as “loud thunder sounds” more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) away. The Fijian government has issued a tsunami warning and established evacuation centers for residents of low-lying coastal areas.
Vanuatu, another Pacific island nation, issued a similar warning.
According to an Australian government spokesperson, the prime minister and foreign minister are monitoring the situation and are ready to provide assistance if needed.
Parts of Australia’s east coast and Tasmania have been issued with a tsunami warning.
Authorities in the eastern state of New South Wales advised residents to “get out of the water and move away from the immediate water’s edge.”
The National Emergency Management Agency in New Zealand, which is over 2,300 kilometers away from Tonga, warned that coastal areas on the north and east coasts of the North Island could experience “strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore.”
Local forecaster Weather Watch tweeted about the eruption: “The energy release is simply astonishing”, adding: “Reports of people hearing the sonic booms across New Zealand.”