Tsunami alert put region on watch

LEIGHTON KEITH
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2013
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ANDY JACKSON
A police officer tells a man to stay out of the water because of the tsunami warning.

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The tsunami warning for Taranaki has been lifted but people are being urged to remain cautious in the water today.

Taranaki Civil Defence said there was no evidence of any effect from the tsunami in terms of a change in sea level last night, but unexpected surges in water movements weren't out of the question and could continue to occur for some time.

"People swimming, surfing or boating today should be aware of the possibility of unusual and unexpected surges, currents or water movements," a press release said.

Tsunami alert put region on watch

David Lean had planned to spend Waitangi Day relaxing, but a big earthquake near the Solomon Islands ended that.

The Taranaki Civil Defence Emergency Management group controller was alerted a tsunami could be headed towards New Zealand about 3pm.

The 8.0-magnitude quake hit the eastern part of the Solomons at 2.12pm and immediately generated a 1.5-metre wave that surged through several low-lying villages.

Reports of damage in the Solomon Islands were still emerging last night, but Lata hospital, in the eastern province of Temotu on the Santa Cruz islands, confirmed five people from the villages hit by the tsunami had died.

They included two couples and a boy aged under 12.

The quake was a shallow 5.8 kilometres deep and the epicentre was 347km east of Kira Kira in the Solomons. Several large aftershocks, ranging between 5.2 to 6.6 in magnitude, hit after the initial quake.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said a tsunami of about a metre was measured at Lata wharf. Smaller waves were recorded in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

Mr Lean said his first concerns were for public safety in Taranaki.

"The potential for risk to life is pretty intense, it's a beautiful day and most people are on the beaches where the major threat lies," Mr Lean told the Taranaki Daily News at the CDEM New Plymouth office yesterday.

"Our greatest concerns, over and above normal beach usage, is with it being a public holiday that more people will be tempted to enter the danger zones."

A metre-high wave was predicted to hit New Plymouth at 7.51pm.

Police moved people away from beaches around the region, cordoned off New Plymouth's Coastal Walkway, and baches at Tongaporutu were evacuated.

Mr Lean spent the day liaising with police, fire brigades and surf lifesavers to make sure beaches were cleared, low-lying baches were evacuated and the public advised about the tsunami.

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"Which are all areas that are likely to be impacted should the tsunami arrive."

Mr Lean said he had also contacted Shell Todd Oil Services.

He said although the wave was only estimated to be a metre it still had the potential to cause significant damage.

"It's not a surf wave you are talking about, it's a block of water surging inland. It's a wall of water moving as far inland as the force behind it will push it."

Craig Williamson, executive officer of Surfing Taranaki, was one of about a dozen surfers in the water at Waiwhakaiho when surf lifeguards arrived in inflatable rescue boats to warn of the impending danger.

"Although the surf was pumping, I'm a family man these days so I got out of there as quickly as I could," Mr Williamson said.

The tsunami's predicted arrival time came and went without incident. Civil Defence and emergency management centres remained on alert last night monitoring various tidal locations right around New Zealand, Mr Lean said.

"If anything does happen during the night, we are ready to go."

Mr Lean said he was pleased with the public's response to the warnings.

"People have responded to our requests to stay away."

He said another briefing would be held today at 8am.

- Taranaki Daily News

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