Tsunami warning puts Kiwis on edge

By Andre Hueber, Frances Morton, John Weekes

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Mike Jarvis watches from the sandhills for any sign of the tsunami. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Mike Jarvis watches from the sandhills for any sign of the tsunami. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Thousands of coastal Kiwis spent a sleepless night on Friday amid fears the deadly tsunami sweeping across the Pacific would strike.

But despite a tsunami warning remaining in place across the North and South Islands for much of yesterday, only minor damage was reported.

The impact was felt greatest at Tutukaka in Northland, where a surge of over one metre tore apart a mooring pole from a jetty, tossing boats in the harbour: "We're talking about 20 knots - that's quite a current," said Tutukaka dockmaster Dylan Lease.

At nearby 90 Mile Beach, more than 600 fishermen taking part in the four-day-long Captain Morgan Snapper Bonanza were ordered to head for higher ground.

Volunteers alerted the unsuspecting fishermen of danger. The contest was supposed to end yesterday but was brought to an early conclusion at 2.15am after organisers spoke to Civil Defence.

Firefighters also blocked entrances to 90 Mile Beach from 5.30am yesterday to prevent rubberneckers.

Westpac Rescue helicopter received a mayday call at midnight from a 70-year-old man off Great Barrier Island.

He was in the process of cruising around the Hauraki Gulf and had been moored at Whangaparapara Harbour when he decided to take his 11m yacht to sea to avoid any tsunami damage.

Pilot Rob Arrowsmith said no moon and good weather enabled him to notice a light coming from the vessel, which had crashed into rocks at Anvil Island, west of Great Barrier.

"His yacht had washed up on rocks against a cliff and we saw him jump up on deck. Other vessels were too far away so we decided to winch him up."

The man had minor scratches and bruises and was overjoyed to be found.

"He was ecstatic to be rescued but sad about what happened to his boat. He had sailed all over the world in it and it contained his life-long possessions."

Police were last night still searching for a 30-year old Auckland man who went out to check his fishing nets after hearing of the tsunami's approach.

The man ventured out in a kayak after telling friends he was concerned about losing his flounder net.

The man was on a fishing and camping holiday with seven others at Pataua Camping ground when he disappeared around 3.30am.

His friends said he was clearly intoxicated and noticed a kayak had been taken.

"They think he decided to get the net in before the tsunami hit," said land search and rescue advisor Grant Conaghan.

The Civil Defence website crashed for on Friday night, and Kiwis woke through the night to check on news updates.

Paul Steele, owner of Ahipara Beachfront Apartments near Kaitaia, said tsunami warnings had "scared the hell" out of guests. "We were warned by neighbours around 10pm and called by relatives in Auckland.

"I monitored the Herald website during the night at 10pm, 1am, 3am and 5.45am."

The Chatham Islands recorded waves of up to one metre, where the Wild Food & Music Festival was being held in a spot protected from the coast, and the warning to stay off the beaches meant most people would head to the event.

Ian Stewart overlooks Houhora Harbour on the Aupouri peninsula and said the tide made a two hour gain within 10 minutes.

"It turned and came back in several times. Boats were circling on their moorings," he said.

At the Pasifika Festival in Western Springs, the relaxed and jovial mood turned to fear when news broke that a 6.1 magnitude earthquake had just struck off the coast of Tonga.

Claudia Olia, 39, of Mt Wellington reached for her mobile phone to call her husband, Saimone, urging him to check up on family.

She was particularly concerned about his 94-year-old father living in Ha'ateiho.

Nerves were already frayed in the low-lying island nation where people had gathered near the king's residence.

The people were seeking safety on higher land after the mega quake in Japan on Friday triggered a tsunami warning for the Pacific.

Sau Suta, 29, of Otahuhu, who was working at a Pasifika Festival stall selling Tongan t-shirts and ornaments with Olia, said the country was particularly vulnerable to the threat of tsunamis.

"Tonga is flat. There is nowhere to go," Suta said.

- Herald on Sunday

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