8 Mar 2010

People warned to stay away from Hawke's Bay swells

10:18 pm on 8 March 2010

Civil Defence officials are warning people to stay away from Hawke's Bay beaches for a few days, after heavy swells pounded beachfront homes.

Waves of about 6.5 metres high crashed on to houses at Haumoana Beach on Sunday night, with some residents describing one wave as being as high as a house.

Senior Sergeant Ross Smith says beachfront houses at Haumoana took a pounding, with windows smashed and debris thrown on to properties.

On Monday morning, Civil Defence suggested to people in 21 homes along the beachfront that they might like to evacuate, but no one took up the offer. Locals say, while the waves were scary at times, they felt reasonably safe.

However, people in settlements along the coast were again warned to be prepared to evacuate if a high tide at 1.20am on Tuesday brought further heavy swells.

Early on Monday evening the swells were still heavy but waves had reduced to about 2 to 3 metres.

Civil Defence also told people to stay off beaches from Waipatiki to Waimarama, possibly for several days.

The swells, the biggest in 12 years, have been caused by a weather low off the coast.

Hastings District Council monitored the swells along the coast during the weekend and activated its emergency management plan as the swells built.

The alert also covered Whirinaki, Te Awanga, Clifton and Ocean beaches.

Resident critical

One resident asked to evacuate his property says the authorities were behind the eight ball with their emergency response.

Johnny Bridgeman, who lives on Clifton Road, says Civil Defence and Police were 12 hours too late in their decision to evacuate.

He says on Sunday night the swells were the worst he has seen in 25 years of living by the beach, but by the time residents were asked to leave, the waves had reduced to about half the size.

"If they were going to do it, they should have been doing it yesterday afternoon, when people could see, because the high tide was around about midnight."

Mr Bridgeman says none of the residents chose to evacuate, as there was no point.