NZ on tsunami alert

Last updated 15:10 28/02/2010
tsunami
Dean Kozanic
Police tape closes New Brighton Pier after a Tsunami warning following an earthquake in Chile.
Chile earthquake
Reuters Zoom
A rescue worker holds a Chilean flag he found while searching earthquake rubble for victims, in Constitucion.

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Aftermath in Chile Gisborne beach Tsunami in New Zealand

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LATEST: A third tsunami may hit the Canterbury coast around high tide late this afternoon bringing the threat of possible coastal flooding.

Tsunami expert and Canterbury University emeritus professor of coastal studies Bob Kirk said based on the first two tsunamis in Lyttelton harbour today, a third was likely around 5pm, which is high tide.

The first tsunami was "of the order of 2m" in height, which if it had hit at high tide would have caused extensive flooding along the coast, around the Avon-Heathcote estuary, and in river mouths.

"As in 1960 we are hell of a lucky it's occurred at low tide. There's no reason why subsequent waves shouldn't be the same size as earlier ones.

"That first wave is not chicken feed at all, that's a big one. If you were to mentally translate that to the...same position with the predicted high tide you can see 1m 60 or so of water there that would be over and above the high tide, and that's not trivial.

"They'll (civil defence) be watching this closely.

It's a bit of a tense time until midnight tonight," Kirk said.

There was no guarantee the gap between the surges would remain at two hours, he said.

In the May 23, 1960 event, a 5m tsunami at high tide sent waves rushing into the estuary at 25 km/h, flipped a cabin cruiser, set yachts adrift and left dinghies on the main road to Sumner.

Rockinghorse Road in South Brighton was under water and waves raised water in the Heathcote River by 1m as far upstream as the Opawa Bridge.

In Marlborough, the Tory Channel remains closed, with the Queen Charlotte Channel still being closely monitored by the Coastguard.

Cook Strait ferries are currently using the northern and longer Queen Charlotte route, which adds approximately half an hour onto the journey time.

But coastal residents in Marlborough are being told it is now safe to return home and a temporary Welfare Centre in central Blenheim has been closed.

Around 25 people from Rarangi township on the northern strip of Cloudy Bay left their homes early this morning as a precaution and sought refuge in the centre.

The evacuation in Rarangi was voluntary. Nearby Whites Bay beach, a popular Sunday sunspot, remains closed to swimmers.

The province’s Civil Defence Emergency Management team is advising people to continue to monitor the situation through the government website www.civildefence.govt.nz,

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 as well as the media. It says that large waves may still arrive over the next 6 to 12 hours and there may be “strong surges and rapid sea rises in some places”.

Marine activity is still being discouraged, with particular concern about unusual currents or movements of water as a result of the earthquake in Chile.

The tsunami it unleashed also affected east coast rail services this morning.

The Tranz Scenic train from Christchurch was held back around Clearwater for an hour and a half as a precaution, but it has now passed through Kaikoura and is on its way towards Picton.

2.15pm: The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has now cancelled the warning for New Zealand, however, Civil Defence, Emergency Management and GNS Science said that the New Zealand will remain at a warning status until further assessments have been made.

The situation will be reviewed at 1430 hours.

The tsunami raced across the Pacific with the speed of a jetliner following a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake just off the Chile coast yesterday.

Civil Defence, operating out of the emergency bunker under Parliament's Beehive, has urged all New Zealanders to stay away from the coast as surges are expected throughout the day.

12:17pm: Civil Defence say they are expecting to scale down the threat level posed by the tsunami.

Civil Defence emergency management national controller Alan Walker said initial indications looked like New Zealand was at the "lower end of the prediction scale".

However people were still being warned to avoid the beach as well as rivers and estuaries where strong surges were expected to make conditions dangerous. That activity could carry on for another 12 hours, he said.

He said there were areas which had seen water levels drop up to 1.5m and that water all had to come back.

A tired-looking Mr Walker - who had been in the Emergency Management bunker since around 10pm last night along with representatives of police, GNS and other government departments - said the surge had arrived at Banks Peninsula at low tide which had minimised the impact.

The water had risen to the normal high tide level, he said.

The impact of the tsunami was likely to be confined to marine areas and was not expected to cause any damage on shore. 

11:40am: The ocean at a beach south of Christchurch has receded dramatically, leaving fish stranded on the sand.

Press reporter Martin van Beynen said the water at Purau Bay in Banks Peninsula withdrew over about five minutes.

On some parts of the deserted beach the water was 100 metres from where it should have been.

"You could see the odd fish flapping about on the sand," he said.

The water slowly pushed back in before withdrawing again, he said.

In Timaru, hand-written "cancelled" signs and closed car parks were the first many people visiting Caroline Bay knew of this morning's tsunami alert.

With the tsunami due to reach the South Canterbury coastline just after 9am, the Sunday morning farmers market on Caroline Bay was cancelled as was a begonia show being held in the Caroline Bay Hall.

A children's triathlon to be held this afternoon has also been cancelled in line with civil defence advice to stay away from coastal areas for the rest of the day.

11.25am: Ocean surges - as reported on tsunami gauges in New Zealand - appear to have stabilised.

Civil Defence says the levels are: 1.0 metres at the Chatham Islands, 0.3 metres at East Cape, Napier, Castlepoint, Tauranga and North Cape, and 0.4 metres in Gisborne.

11.20am:  The normally placid harbour at the Northland charter boat port of Tutukaka turned into a 'washing machine'.

"The wave was approximately one metre. It sucks out and comes in. It takes a couple of minutes. They are very long waves," Jeroen Jongejans, who runs Dive Tutukaka, said from his boat near the harbour entrance.

11.04am: Dozens of boats, including a luxury cruise liner, have flocked to the deepwater of the Rangitoto channel at the entrance to the Waitemata Harbour. 

Auckland coastguard radio operator Emma Millen said around 100 boats are floating in the deep water to wait out projected tsunami surges. 

"It's basically all the boats that have been moored in the small bays over the weekend, they had to get out of the shallow water and steam into the harbour," Ms Millen said. 

The vast cruise ship Dawn Princess has had to leave Auckland port and is also floating in the harbour.

10.37: People heading to the beach to watch the tsunami are crazy, says the coastguard.

Coastguard Northern Region duty officer John Cowan, said today people heading to the beach should turn around and head the other way.

The tsunami warning for the east coast had little effect on many people on Auckland's North Shore who continued to head to the beach and head to sea in their boats.

Two women having coffee on Milford Beach said they had a good vantage point and another woman about to head out on a walk to Takapuna Beach said she had her flippers.

However, Mr Cowan said the warning should be heeded and people should head to high ground.

"Stay away from the beaches. Don't go out on the water and if you are already out on the water up anchor and head to deeper water at least half a mile off shore."

10.24am: The latest information from Civil Defence shows surges of about 1m at the Chatham Islands, 30cm at East Cape and 40cm in Gisborne.

Rana Solomon of Chatham Islands Council reported a surge height of 1.5 metres at Pitt Island in the Chathams, Civil Defence said. 

Napier, Castlepoint, Tauranga and North Cape tsunami gauges are also showing initial activity of approximately 30cm.

10.17am: Marsden Point oil refinery has suspended all operations pending further information on the severity of the tsunami. 

Production controller Ted Rye said all operations at the country's only oil refinery had been put on hold. 

"We’ve just had a report from a trader fishing boat out at the Hen and Chick islands, about 10 kilometers off the coast, and they have noticed quite a significant surge."

A small ship which had been discharging its oil at the port this morning had also been stopped, Mr Rye said.

10.07am: Civil Defence Minister John Carter is appealling to Kiwis to take today's warnings seriously, and stay away from beaches all day.

10.02am: Gauges are reporting a tsunami of about half a metre at the Chatham Islands, and 20cm at East Cape, Civil Defence emergency management has reported.

Changes in water level - seen as a precursor to a tsunami - have been seen is Gisborne, and gauges show changes in the Hawke's Bay and at Castlepoint, on the Wairarapa coast.

Initial surges were likely to be smaller than those to follow, Civil Defence warned. It was expected that the greatest wave heights could occur between six and 12 hours after the initial arrivals.

9.56am: Today's dragonboat racing event on Wellington Harbour has also been cancelled due to the tsunami alert and at the request of police and Civil Defence.

Wellington civil-defence Controller Mike Mendonca says it is better to take a cautious approach.

"Our advice for everyone is to stay away from beaches and low-lying coastal areas until further notice - when the all-clear is given," he said.

9.46am: Whispering Sands Beachfront Motel owner Peter Martin had been watching the sea in Gisborne and said there had been a noticeable drop in the water level.

"The water went out a wee bit and when the water dropped the water came out of the river water … the water's looking quite dirty," he said.

"I think now the … sea level's starting to come back in," he said.

There had been a voluntary evacuation notice issued but locals were pretty relaxed.

"I don't think people have gone as crazy as they have the past two times," he said.

9.41am: Low tide is turning in Lyttelton harbour where Press reporter Martin van Beynen says some ripples were showing on the previously calm waters.

He said most residents of the Lyttelton beach settlement of Purau had left their homes following alerts from Civil Defence and Fire Service volunteers.

Speaking from a lookout overlooking the harbour Anna Mahy said her and husband John had been alerted at 6.30am and had packed up their wedding and baby photos as “everything else can wait but you can’t replace the photos’’.

Robyn Ferris, who had been holidaying in Purau for the weekend, had also packed up and left. “Even if nothing happens it’s a good exercise and shows the system is working.’’

Purau has had three tsunami alerts in the last 18 months.

The Gisborne volunteer coastguard are monitoring 23 boats involved in a fishing competition off the coast.

Coastguard operator Jon, who would not give his last name, said they were busy keeping an eye on the Nick’s Head fishing tournament. 
 
"The police have taped off the boat loading ramp to prevent boaties leaving the harbour but these guys got out early, around 3.30am, so they are all out there. 
 
"They are out at sea so they ok at the moment, but we’ve got the water draining out of the beach here.
 
"I'm looking down the harbour and I can see no breakers but the harbour is looking a bit empty.
 
The coastguard were following the civil defence updates closely, he said. 
 
Around 30 spectators had gathered at the beach despite warnings from civil defence to avoid the area.

9.38am: The sea at Wellington's Lyall Bay has receded a small amount.

9.23am: Gisborne residents have had a quick change of heart about returning home this morning, when seas levels dropped suddenly - signalling a tsunami was imminent.

A witness said the water went "a long, long way out", dropping below low tide levels, even though it was around high tide.

Civil Defence had now blocked off all roads to the beaches.

There were still "idiots" been seen heading to the beach with surfboards on their cars, the witness said.

Civil Defence volunteers and emergency service personnel had been door knocking at beachfront homes in the city and small settlements along the East Coast advising people of the warning and recommending they move inland or to higher ground.

At that stage many people had already been contacted by relatives, neighbours and friends who had already heard of the warning in some cases on overseas media.

Most residents, by now familiar with the procedure after several alerts over the past two years, moved to higher ground automatically, "just in case".

Many boat owners, including Eastland Port, put vessels out to sea.

By 8am when the wave was due to arrive, hill tops in and around Gisborne were chocabloc with people and cars. On Kaiti Hill overlooking the city and port, a few people could also be seen on the city beachfront below, waiting to watch for a wave.

In Marlborough, residents are being asked to stay away from all coastal areas.
 
Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds was closed at 6am, while Queen Charlotte Channel is being monitored by the Coastguard.
 
All recreational crafts are being advised to stay off the water. The impact of the tsunamis was expected to be felt shortly after 9am this morning.

The concern is about unusual currents or movements of water a result of the tsunami, according to Rosie Bartlett from Civil Defence.
 
In addition, the popular Whites Bay swimming beach in the Port Underwood area has been evacuated.
 
Residents of nearby Rarangi Beach have been alerted. A voluntary evacuation notice is in place there and a welfare centre has been set up for them at Stadium 2000 in central Blenheim.

9.19am: Some areas of Gisborne and Hawke's Bay are being evacuated. The sea was seen to recede in Gisborne, RNZ is reporting.

9.15am: GNS scientist Ken Gledhill says current information suggests water surges will "probably grow a bit yet" from the 50cm to "close to a metre".
 
So far arrivals on the East Cape and Raoul Island had been smaller then expected but the wave action had arrived fairly recently.
 
"Most places on mainland New Zealand it could go to a metre max and on the Chatham's it could go higher than that. And in places where there’s narrow bays like on banks Peninsula it could go a bit higher."
 
There would be "tens of minutes" between wave peaks and people on the beach might see the water withdraw before coming back, with the first wave not necessarily the biggest.
 
He described the surging water as slow variations in sea levels.
 
"It's more or less like a river coming toward you that's ebbing and flowing a bit. It's not like a traditional sea wave."
 
The water would be travelling at about the speed of a car when it hit land, "so you can't outrun it", but was crossing the ocean at about the speed of a jet liner.
 
"The main message is that this is not a beach day basically," he said.
 
"There’s still a possibility that an odd bay or whatever that just happens to get the energy coming in the wrong direction or right direction will splash some water around."
 
He expected the wave action to die down over the next day but said the energy which had been generated meant it could carry until tomorrow.

9.13am: Latest times:

Chatham Islands-Kaingaroa 7.52am - arrived

Chatham Islands-Waitangi 7.35am - arrived (height 0.5m)

North Cape 9.20am

Whangarei 9.45am

Auckland (North Head) 10.52am

Mt Maunganui 9.04am

East Cape 8.24am - arrived (height 0.1m)

Gisborne 8.29am

New Plymouth 11.26am

Napier 8.53am

Wanganui 10.20am

Wellington 8.55am

Nelson 10.35am

Marlborough Sounds (Tory Channel) 9.08am

Westport 10.38am

Greymouth 10.20am

Christchurch (New Brighton) 9.35am

Timaru 9.10am

Milford Sound 9.35am

Dunedin 9am

Bluff 9.28am

Stewart Island 9.51am

9.05am: Waves at the Chathams are now reaching a metre in size. A wave of 1.5m passed Raoul Island. The surge hitting New Zealand's East Cape is now 20cm.

Wave heights refer to maximum water level relative to the normal sea level at the beach. They do not take tides into account.

8.59am: Civil Defence says people in coastal areas should:

1. Stay off beaches

2. Stay out of the water (sea, rivers and estuaries, including boating activities)

3. Do not go sightseeing

4. Share this information with family, neighbours and friends

5. Listen to the radio and/or TV for updates

6. Follow instructions of your local Civil Defence authorities

8.48am: Civil Defence reports wave activity is now about 50cm at the Chatham Islands, and 10cm at East Cape.

"It is important to note that this is the first arrival and larger waves may follow over a period of several hours.  The situation continues to be closely monitored."

8.43am: In Auckland, the coastguard is warning all boaters to stay off the water.
 
Coastguard northern regions duty officer Nathan Snell told Stuff.co.nz preparations for a possible tsunami were well underway.
 
"We're suggesting that all boaters stay off the water if possible. 
 
"We're also suggesting people avoid the beaches and marinas.
 
"If by chance people are already on the water, we are saying do not anchor, head to deeper water of a minimum of 20 metres and also at least half a nautical mile off shore."

8.41am: Civil Defence emergency management national controller Alan Walker is urging people wanting updates about the tsunami warning not to call 111.

"111 is not as an information service and should be used only if people need urgent assistance from fire, ambulance or police," Mr Walker said.
 
"Callers asking for information take up 111 operators time and can delay their responce to urgent calls for assistance."

8.38am: The revised times for the waves to reach New Zealand are: 8.24am on the East Cape, 8.29am in Gisborne, 8.53am in Napier, 8.55am in Wellington, 9am in Dunedin, 9.04am in Mt Maunganui, 9.08am in the Marlborough Sounds, 9.10am in Timaru and 9.15am in Whangarei.
 
Auckland Civil Defence said shipping movements would continue this morning but that all ships had been placed a "high state of readiness" in case they needed to clear the ports quickly and move to deeper water.

8.36am: GNS says the wave is growing, and is now at 50cm. It is not expected to be destructive. 8.30am Sumner’s free campers, tourists who stay overnight in the public carpark beside the surf lifesaving club, received an early-morning wakeup, with all of them cleared from the area by 7.30am.

Only one surfer was out at 8am, unaware of the potential drama, as others watched him from the promenade. But otherwise it is business as usual, with the Scarborough Fare café open and offering the best viewing spot.

8.18am Canterbury Civil Defence said Banks Peninsula farmers had been advised to move stock from low-lying areas and warned that any sightseers gathering on beaches would be moved on.

Christchurch City Council staff were preparing to evacuate residents from low-lying areas in Banks Peninsula from Teddington to Akaroa.

Shipping movements in Lyttelton port had been cancelled for the day. In Kaikoura, the Peninsula Road had been closed and freedom campers evacuated from the beaches.

Volunteers in Waimakariri were contacting fishermen to leave the Waimakariri River mouth and about 700 competitors in a Rakaia fishing competition have been advised to move away from the river mouth and up to about one kilometre upstream.

In Marlborough, residents are being asked to stay away from all coastal areas.
 
Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds was closed at 6am, while Queen Charlotte Channel is being monitored by the Coastguard.
 
All recreational crafts are being advised to stay off the water. The impact of the tsunamis was expected to be felt shortly after 9am this morning.
The concern is about unusual currents or movements of water a result of the tsunami, according to Rosie Bartlett from Civil Defence.
 
In addition, the popular Whites Bay swimming beach in the Port Underwood area has been evacuated.
 
Residents of nearby Rarangi Beach have been alerted. A voluntary evacuation notice is in place there and a welfare centre has been set up for them at Stadium 2000 in central Blenheim.


Surf Cams:

http://www.sumnertoferrymead.co.nz/surfcam.htm

http://surf.co.nz/reports/christchurch-kaikoura/


8.00am: Emergency siren has sounded in Diamond Harbour, alerting volunteer fire crew to go to the station

Lyttelton Port Company chief executive Peter Davie said any tsunami was magnified in the harbour by as much as three-fold.

Five ships, including a container and coal ship, had been moved out to anchor at Godley Head. Engine problems meant a sixth ship remained in port.

“However, the tide should be reasonably low,’’ said Davie. “So we’ve got a bit more to play with.’’

7.51am: The Chatham Islands has just experienced a 20cm wave – the first affects in New Zealand of a tsunami generated by an earthquake in Chile.

A Civil Defence spokeswoman said GNS Science had picked up the first water movement of around 20cm but "that’s not likely to be the maximum," she said.

Waves generated by earthquakes would often come in succession, with the first not necessarily being the worst.

New Zealand authorities have been waiting on the wave's impact in the Chatham Islands in order tp gauge its potential impact on New Zealand and to base their preparation on accordingly.

7.28am: Christchurch's Sumner Beach has been evacuated until at least 9am as part of this morning's tsunami warnings.

7.24am: A tsunami wave has not yet hit the Chatham Islands as expected, but other areas of New Zealand remain on alert.

Civil Defence had been waiting to hear whether the wave, created by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile, hit the Chatham Islands. It was expected at 7.05am but, by 7.10am, no wave was recorded. Civil Defence is continuing to monitor the situation and says any wave could still hit the islands late.

The quake hit 325 kilometers southwest of Santiago, at a depth of 35 kilometers at 3:34 am local time (6.34pm NZ Time), the US Geological Survey reported. A wave measuring 2.34 metres was recorded near Chile and Tsunami warnings were issued over a wide area.

A New Zealand couple in Santiago said the scenes of devastation are terrifying.

Sean Hallissey, 43, called his mother in Christchurch to say he was uninjured but had “never been so scared in all his life’’.

Speaking to The Press Shealagh Hallissey said she had been up since midnight desperately trying to reach her son, who had been in Santiago with his wife Rose for two months. He finally returned her call about 9am to confirm he was safe and had left his apartment in an old building for a modern five-star hotel “with seismic strengthening’’.

She said the constant shaking of the after-shocks had left her son feeling “nauseous’’.

“He is beside himself,’’ said Mrs Hallissey. “He said the skyline in Santiago is just smoke and it’s pretty devastated.’’

The couple, who had been living in Auckland before going to Chile for business, were due to fly out on Monday but had been told the airport was closed for at least three days.

A New Zealand couple in Santiago said the scenes of devastation are terrifying.

Sean Hallissey, 43, called his mother in Christchurch to say he was uninjured but had “never been so scared in all his life’’.

Speaking to The Press Shealagh Hallissey said she had been up since midnight desperately trying to reach her son, who had been in Santiago with his wife Rose for two months. He finally returned her call about 9am to confirm he was safe and had left his apartment in an old building for a modern five-star hotel “with seismic strengthening’’.

She said the constant shaking of the after-shocks had left her son feeling “nauseous’’.

“He is beside himself,’’ said Mrs Hallissey. “He said the skyline in Santiago is just smoke and it’s pretty devastated.’’

The couple, who had been living in Auckland before going to Chile for business, were due to fly out on Monday but had been told the airport was closed for at least three days.

Do you have friend and family in Chile? Email reporters@press.co.nz.  

The New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (CDEM) said areas of land could be threatened on the Chatham Islands and Banks Peninsula, while waves of less than 1 metre were likely for the entire east coast of New Zealand.

Civil Defence said parts of the Chathams had been evacuated, with a wave expected to hit the Islands at 7.05am.

Canterbury CDEM group said residents in low lying areas of Banks Peninsula bays, where the tsunami was expected to arrive about 8.30am, should be prepared for an evacuation.

"People need to be ready to move to safety by 8am and may not be able to return for at least 24 hours."

The Port of Napier has begun moving ships offshore to a depth of at least 30m in anticipation of the wave's arrival, RNZ reported.

People on coastal areas were asked to stay off beaches, avoid the water (including rivers and estuaries) and refer to media or their local Civil Defence authorities for updates.

The ministry asked that people avoid calling 111 for information, reserving that number for emergencies.

Estimates show the first wave reaching the east coast of the North Island by 8am ahead of the main centres of Wellington (8.25am), Christchurch (9.05am) and Auckland (10.22am).

"The first wave may arrive later and may not be the largest. Strong currents and unusual tidal effects may continue for several hours," the ministry said.

"Based on historical events it is expected that the greatest wave heights could occur between 6 and 12 hours after the initial arrivals."

PACIFIC

On the Cook Islands tsunami alarms have sounded on the main island of Rarotoga.

A police official in Avarua told Stuff that people were moving inland and away from the coast.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force team is currently on Aitutaki and Penhryn on cyclone relief work.

A RNZAF Hercules is circling Rarotonga after being hastily sent into the air as the tsunami warning came.

Squadron Leader Kavae Tamariki, who is in Avarua, told Stuff a short time ago that there had been "pretty chaotic" scenes on the island since 4am.

"Everybody was on the road and heading in land."

He said the Hercules had just arrived back from cyclone relief in the northern Cook Islands.

"We launched it again and it will patrol over the island until the emergency has passed. Hopefully nothing will happen."

A Fairfax Media reporter and photographer are on the plane.

The tsunami is coinciding with the arrival of king tides in the South Pacific.

A 1.07 metre king tide is due to occur at Tuvalu at 10.40am, about an hour after the tsunami is due to arrive.

Funafuti, the capital atoll, is just five metres above sea level.

 

- The Press

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