Survivor and Eyewitness Videos – Part 2

Meet Lisiate Tai (on the left) and Sione Fangalalu (both 24 years old) from Nuku’alofa, Tonga. These guys were enjoying a day at the beach with a group of friends, having a few beers and a picnic on January 15, 2022 when the Hunga volcano decided to do its thing…

Shortly after they noticed the plume on the horizon from the erupting volcano, they say the sea became agitated. There was an unexpectedly large surge that rushed up the beach and forced them to quickly get up, gather their stuff and run to the cars. A second surge arrived as they got to their cars at the end of the beach access road.

The next scene, shot from inside Lisiate’s car (with Sione at the wheel as he hadn’t been drinking), shows the view from the car looking to the north. A third, larger surge is seen coming down the coast towards them. They quickly put the car in reverse and begin backing up as the tsunami nearly comes over the hood of the car. At the same time, one of their friends in another car 100 m or so further inland is also filming. The video goes to split screen and pauses to show that they are in sync (note the falling fence post in both videos). From the video on the right we see several cars turning right on to the beach access road. The video pauses again as a white SUV exits on to the road. The line of cars then makes it’s way out to the highway and back to Nuku’alofa.

View of Ha’atafu beach looking north taken from drone footage recorded the day after the tsunami. The red circle is the location where the first video is shot. The green circle is the location where the second video was shot. The yellow arrow shows the path taken by the vehicles exiting the Ha’atafu Beach resort.

These videos and the accounts from the witnesses are discussed in more detail in the open-access paper “Tsunami Runup and Inundation in Tonga from the January 2022 Eruption of Hunga Volcano” published in Pure and Applied Geophysics.

The two videos used to make the composite video shown above.