Coastal Christchurch residents criticise delay in tsunami warning system
A delay activating tsunami warning sirens could have been life-threatening to those living in Christchurch beach suburbs, residents say.
Some are demanding answers as to why sirens did not sound until about 2am, two hours after the magnitude-7.5 earthquake struck and an hour after the national civil defence website instructed coastal residents to move to higher ground immediately.
"Something needs to be done," New Brighton resident Shanna Howden said.
If there had been a large wave, Howden questioned whether people could have escaped in time. Heavy traffic and bad roads meant it took 45 minutes for them to get out of New Brighton.
"There must be a way to put something in place to make it a smoother process," she said.
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Tsunami warnings come from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) in Wellington but local authorities are responsible for civil defence emergency management in their own areas.
MCDEM posted its first tsunami warning on its website at 1am.
The warning was repeated at 1.30am and not lifted until 3.39am. In Christchurch, the tsunami sirens began at 2am and sounded well beyond dawn.
However, messages sent by the ministry to the duty officer at the Christchurch City Council and the Canterbury civil defence emergency management group were less clear.
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said she was more interested in learning from the experience than casting blame. "I don't know what went wrong but it's important we fix this."
Canterbury civil defence emergency group controller Neville Reilly said the council's duty officer had relied on the group's advice.
The group's decision to wait a couple of hours before firing the sirens was done in consultation with a tsunami scientist but without the knowledge that MCDEM was already instructing evacuation on its website.
"It would have been nice if there wasn't the confusion coming from emails which were different from the website," he said.
"The worst thing you want to do is cry wolf although safety is paramount.
"There's no black and white."
MCDEM was unable to respond on Monday.
Alan Foskett, 65, who has lived in South New Brighton for 40 years, said he was tossing up whether to evacuate when the police arrived to tell everyone to leave about 1.30am.
He and his wife left in their car but ended up in gridlock. "We turned around and got our bikes."
Councillor David East said he had no concerns about how the siren warning worked describing it, as "reasonably timely". He had not evacuated but stayed behind to check on people, he said.
New Brighton resident Geert van der Lee said she would not rely on the sirens in future. "Now I know if a bigger earthquake happens I'm out of here."
She said the road was "chock-a-block full of cars" straight away, and getting to a point that normally took a few minutes took an hour during the evacuation.
During that time, van der Lee was worried for her safety.
"I don't know how long you have actually got to get out when the alarm goes off," she said.
Amanda Small lives on Esplanade in Sumner and decided to take her 6-year-old Aviv to higher ground before the tsunami sirens had started.
"Nothing had fallen from my shelves so I had thought to wait it out and see how it goes," she said.
"Then friends in Wellington and Perth reached out and alerted me 30 minutes before the sirens went off that there was a tsunami warning.
"I jumped the gun and I'm glad I did."
"I think I have a bit of complacency, I should have gotten out of bed straight away instead of waiting for things to fall down," she said.
Daz Harris, who lives metres from the beach on Stoke St in Sumner, said neighbours knocked on doors to make sure everyone knew what was happening.
"There was a great neighbourhood response"
Best advice (from Ecan website):
Do not wait for sirens. The earthquake is your tsunami warning. You may have only five to 30 minutes to evacuate.
If you are able evacuate on foot and by bicycle to avoid traffic jams.
If you feel very strong ground shaking, in which it is hard to stand up, there is a small chance that a tsunami will arrive very soon and you need to move inland and to higher ground immediately.
- The Press