Earthquake sparks major evacuation of Whangamata

By Lesley Staniland

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Lesley Staniland is editor of the Coastal News at Whangamata and was one of many woken by the town's tsunami siren who headed to higher ground. She shares her experience here.
Traffic at Whangamata heading for the hills after a tsunami siren. Photo/Lesley Staniland
Traffic at Whangamata heading for the hills after a tsunami siren. Photo/Lesley Staniland

Whangamata residents were rudely woken by the tsunami siren sounding at 2am.

It wasn't until turning on their cellphones and seeing earthquake reports, or turning on radios and hearing the shocking news of devastating shakes in the South Island and Wellington that they took the news seriously.

I leapt out of bed in my two-storey apartment, quickly threw on some clothes, abandoned the dog, grabbed the camera and headed for the hills.

I leapt out of bed in my two-storey apartment, quickly threw on some clothes, abandoned the dog, grabbed the camera and headed for the hills.

I was astounded when I got 2km down the road and there was a traffic jam at the bottom of The Drive, leading up to Pacific Heights. There hadn't appeared to be many vehicles on the road until that moment - in fact, most of them seemed to be heading out of town.

I parked half way up the hill and walked up to the top of the hill, asking people along the way: "Have you got your emergency kit with you?"

Incredibly, only one person said yes - and he also had brought along his bicycles.

Others had grabbed their dogs and fled but everyone else I spoke to had no food, water or medication with them.

Many were dressed only in dressing gowns or quickly thrown on clothing.

One woman bemoaned the fact she hadn't gone to the toilet before fleeing, another cursed because she had no water.

Speaking from the top of Pacific Heights, Civil Defence controller Garry Towler said he was rapt with the response from the population.

"It was an incredible threat and I'm rapt to see so many people have taken heed of the warnings."

When told about the people who had fled unprepared, Mr Towler said the event would certainly serve to make people more aware of the dangers of a tsunami.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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