Gisborne residents have again been rattled after an American psychic's prediction that the Big One is coming caused some people to flee town.
The woman's premonition - believed to have started with a prediction of a magnitude 8 earthquake to strike at 8pm last Wednesday - has morphed into a potent rumour that has the whole city talking.
Gisborne District Council civil defence officer Richard Steele condemned the rumour as "irresponsible", saying concerned residents had clogged council and police phone lines with inquiries.
"No one can predict earthquakes - not psychics, not even scientists."
Mr Steele said he could not understand why someone would play on people's fears, especially as many were still coping from the after-effects of the December 20 magnitude 6.8 quake.
"It's a waste of resources. It isn't fair - a number of people are now concerned about earthquakes and tsunamis."
Police and civil defence spokesmen confirmed there were reports of several people who had left Gisborne as a result of the supposed threat of another earthquake.
Senior Sergeant Moera Brown said police had fielded phone calls and had been stopped in the street in Gisborne yesterday by anxious residents.
Police were trying to establish where the prediction came from, Ms Brown said. However, it was not illegal to start or pass on rumours.
"[But] there is a moral responsibility not to cause panic. We understand most of the information has come from the Internet."
Trade Me message boards have filled with more than 100 messages on the prophecy, with opinions divided on the validity of the woman's claims.
- The Dominion Post