Residents concerned at Taieri Mouth civil defence methods
Residents in the small Clutha settlement of Taieri Mouth have called on their council for a better civil defence system after some were only notified of the need to evacuate several hours after Monday's earthquake.
Tsunami warnings were issued along parts of the Otago coast about 2.30am.
However, resident Linda Farrelly said she knew nothing about the dangers until a member of the rural fire brigade knocked on her door just after 5am and told her to evacuate.
There were no sirens in Taieri Mouth so the locals had to rely on the rural fire brigade from Waihola going door to door to advise of the situation, Farrelly said.
"Had there been a tsunami we would have been very wet by that stage."
The situation showed how important it was for small beachside communities to have a siren system, Farrelly said.
If someone needed to go door to door in a crib community where many homes were not occupied, it was hopeless, she said.
Taieri Mouth resident Chrissie Visser said members of the fire service knocked on her door about 5am telling the family to move to higher ground.
The fire engine's lights were flashing and every so often the siren would blare to get people's attention, she said.
The family headed to higher ground near Waihola, where she saw four other cars.
She was concerned some people may have ignored the warning and stayed in their homes.
"A lot of people didn't go – that concerns me," she said.
"You don't mess around with things like that."
After the initial quake struck, friends from Queenstown had sent her text messages telling her about the tsunami threat, but she was concerned there was no civil defence siren in Taieri Mouth and that it had taken so long for residents to get a clear warning about what they should do she said.
The council needed to think about stepping in to address that, she said.
Resident Kevin MacLeod got a phone call about 3am from a friend at Waihola telling him there was a tsunami warning.
He notified his elderly neighbours so they had time to get out and then started getting his family organised, MacLeod said.
It was just before 5am when the fire brigade knocked on his door advising that he and his family needed to evacuate, he said.
While it did take a while for the firefighters to notify his family that they need to evacuate, MacLeod was not worried.
Clutha District Council Civil Defense controller Charles Hakkaart said he became aware of the situation about 1am and went into the Civil Defence Centre at the Clutha District Council.
It was about 2.30am when they were fully advised by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.
At the same time the Otago Controller notified the Clutha team of the tsunami risk, Hakkaart said.
The team knew the coast was due for a high tide at 3am which was when they activated and started notifying residents, he said.
Affected residents were notified by police, firefighters and through volunteers who knocked on doors and rang using phone lists.
Evacuation centres were established at Toko Mouth, Taieri Mouth, Pounawea and Owaka.
Residents were able to return to their homes after 6.30am.
Owaka senior constable Murray Hewitson said he was called about 2am and began visiting the beaches and advising freedom campers to move.
After meeting with the Civil Defence team about 3am, the decision was made not to declare an emergency, but to evacuate residents in Toko Mouth and Pounawea as a precaution, he said.
Clutha District Mayor Bryan Cadogan said the team responding to the earthquake got it 100 per cent right.
"At no point did we feel we weren't totally on top of things."
The Civil Defence team were getting the information on the ground and combining it with the information coming from regional and national levels and making appropriate decisions, Cadogan said.
The group worked with inundation plans and evacuated residents according to who was likely to be affected first, so there was a pecking order, he said.
There was no doubt a siren warning system is something the district council would have considered a good idea, but it was something the Otago regional Council would have to look into, Cadogan said.
Emergency management Otago regional manager and group controller Chris Hawker, who had been in the role for a year, said a siren system in Otago was not something that had been seriously considered as far as he was aware.
There were a number of opinions around the effectiveness of tsunami sirens and it was not an exact science, Hawker said
It could be confusing for people who did not know what the sirens meant, he said.
Clutha had an effective community response, making use of phone trees which it had incorporated into community planning for emergencies, Hawker sasid.
A community looking after itself was a better way than a mechanical siren going off, he said.
Meanwhile, Environment Southland has issued an advisory warning to Southlanders to take care in coastal areas over the next few days as king tides are expected.
The tides create increased water levels which could cause some localised surface flooding. The king tides are a result of the brightest supermoon in 68 years.
An Environment Southland hydrologist will be monitoring the situation and the council would issue any further updates if required.