18 Sep 2015

Tsunami warnings called off

2:55 pm on 18 September 2015

The tsunami warning for New Zealand's east coast and the Chatham Islands has been cancelled after Chile's huge earthquake yesterday afternoon.

Whitebaiters at the mouth of the Waimakariri River north of Christchurch ignore warnings to stay out of the water after the massive earthquake in Chile.

Whitebaiters at the mouth of the Waimakariri River ignore warnings to stay out of the water. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

But warnings earlier today didn't stop some whitebaiters from getting into the water at dawn this morning.

The Chathams have had water surges of up to half a metre, and Gisborne and other areas on the east coasts have recorded up to 30 centimetres, following the magntiude 8.3 quake that hit off the coast of Chile yesterday.

At least 10 people are known to have died in Chile and waves up to four-and-a-half metres surged through coastal towns. One million people were evacuated from their homes in anticipation of tsunami surges.

Civil Defence said tsunami experts believed the threat to New Zealand's eastern seaboard and the Chatham Islands has largely passed.

However, they said there would be unusual water conditions for the next 36 hours and advised people to be cautious before going into the water or out in small boats.

The most recent warning from the Tsunami Experts Panel said it expected some late arriving waves reflected from Pacific Islands, which should bed be arriving over the next few hours. In the February 2010 tsunami these were the largest waves recorded.

These waves are not expected to be larger than the range provided in the threat level map.

Civil Defence director Sarah Stuart-Black told Morning Report today the tsunami was what they expected.

"We're seeing changes in tidal and coastal patterns, which is what we have seen in past instances of tsunami, and also what the science advice gave us yesterday."

Civil Defence said they were generally pleased that the public had listened to the warning and stayed away from the shorefront, but some whitebaiters at the mouth of Canterbury's Waimakariri River this morning ignored the warnings.

[audio[ http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/201771121/whitebaiters-warned-to-stay-away-from-canterbury-river Listen to Radio NZ Christchurch correspondant Conan Young's report

About fifteen people were seen by Radio New Zealand moving about in the river, many up to their waists.

But whitebaiter Dawn Sullivan said she was not worried.

"It's a bit unpredictable today. I didn't know whether to come or not, and I thought, well, if it's a big wave, I'll just hang onto the rocks, and the main thing is to get your waders off."

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The Eastern areas of New Zealand - as highlighted in this Civil Defence graphic - are most at risk of tidal surges. Photo: Supplied / Civil Defence

Chatham surges

The first waves reached the Chatham Islands at 11.50pm last night.

The Chatham Islands Council reported repeated ebbing and flowing of the tide, and ocean noises associated with tidal surges.

Three families evacuated their homes because of the tsunami warning.

Mayor Alfred Preece told Morning Report the families that evacuated lived on very low lying land.

He said there had been no damage for the waves but islanders have had similar warnings before and take them seriously.

"We're being cautious. We've seen the effects it's had in Chile, so these things are real, and we're definitely very respectful."

Mr Preece said the island was still on watch until they get word from Civil Defence that the danger has passed.

Small tsunami waves have also been reported in California and Hawaii.

A Northland dive company owner says waves with a speed of up to 22 kilometres an hour were hitting the coast of Tutukaka early this morning.

The co-owner of Dive! Tutukaka, Kate Malcolm, told Morning Report the surge at the marina was freaky, with the waves coming in strongly at a height of about half a metre.

Ms Malcolm said she saw a boat getting ready to go fishing, when a surge came through and the mooring lines broke.

She said it sat there for a couple of hours with its motor running to hold its position.

"They were significant when they were coming in through that bottleneck. They were a solid 10-12 knots coming in for a good seven to eight minutes at that speed, and then there would be a lull and then it would go straight back out again at that speed."

The official advice is to be very cautious on beaches, and at harbours and estuaries

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The earthquake struck off the coast of Chile at about 11am NZST. Photo: US Geological Survey

Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management spokesman Shane Bayley said the tsunami waves would roll in at different times.