Should I stay or should I go now?

It was the question on many people's minds in the early hours of Monday morning following the Kaikoura quake which was felt across most of the country.

Even up here in the Bay, people were confused about the tsunami warning - or whether there even was one - and whether they needed to evacuate to higher ground.

Some people did not spend the night confused, because they were fast asleep.


This state of unawareness can hardly be called blissful if there had been huge wall of water heading towards your bed.

I was not long home from working a night shift when the quake was felt in the Bay. At first I thought I was fainting and said as much to my partner. He didn't seem to hear, he was looking out the window and said, "Someone is swimming in the pool."

The water in the pool splashed, the hangers rattled in the wardrobe, and what seemed like a few minutes passed in a surreal dream-like state.

While the earth was still slightly swaying, I was texting colleagues, looking on Geonet.

In the minutes immediately after the quake the initial official tweet from New Zealand Civil Defence said there was no tsunami threat to New Zealand. Then there was a threat to the South Island. Then it was upgraded to the whole of New Zealand's East Coast.

As Tony on our Facebook page said, "Nekminnit".

Being so far away from the quake it is easy, of course, for some to be blase.

While some people were clearly worried whether they should move to higher ground, others were dismissive and cynical.


One woman posted that people should get off Facebook and go back to sleep, "Haven't the kids got school tomorrow?" she said.

Another said, "Time to go for a surf".

But by about 1.30am the message from Civil Defence was clear: if you lived on the East Coast of New Zealand in a low-lying coastal area you should move to higher ground immediately.

So that's exactly what Sheila McLean, a resident of Bayswater Retirement Village in Mount Maunganui, did. She jumped on her mobility scooter and headed to the nearest evacuation point in Baypark Stadium.

Alone on State Highway 29A a stranger stopped to help. There wasn't a soul at Baypark.

Other locals like Andrea Neville -the stranger who stopped to help McLean - self-evacuated with her two children and she said it felt "unnatural" to be driving virtually alone on the highway thinking "are people ignoring the warning or are they asleep and don't know?".

It is all too easy to dismiss these people as over-reacting. But actually they are following official advice.

Tauranga City Council manager of emergency management Paul Baunton said McLean did the correct thing.

Those who chose to go back to sleep could also say they did the right thing -as nothing happened here in the Bay. Hardly scenes from The Impossible, the blockbuster movie about the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

But many Papamoa and Mount residents did not even get the opportunity to make a choice because despite the fact that warnings were being reported via news outlets, if you were not awake you would not know anything about it.

It seems beyond belief that almost 12 years after the Boxing Day which saw waves up to 30m high crash over Southeast Asia, killing more than 230,000 people in several countries, and five years after the Japan tsunami, we still do not have tsunami warning sirens along our coastline.

I just looked back in our archives and that sentence I have just written, I wrote it in this paper in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

This week an unofficial Bay of Plenty Times street survey found 57 out of 60 Mount Maunganui and Papamoa residents polled said there should be tsunami sirens along the coastal strip.

It is good to know that tsunami alert sirens will be on the agenda at next month's Tauranga City Council meeting after mounting pressure from coastal residents concerned they slept through Monday's earthquake.

But there has been pressure on council for years and nothing has happened.

It makes me wonder whether it is right to leave our survival in the hands of council. We have no choice as the way it is now, territorial local authorities are responsible for planning and civil defence. They are also responsible for our warning systems and they are in my opinion failing us on this.

Given that they abandoned the sirens project three years ago, I don't hold out much hope for sirens any time soon.

Council hasn't even got a meeting scheduled about it until December.

I think that it is time to take the warning systems out of the hands of local government and put them into central government which should develop a standard system.

If we wait for the council we might wait another 10 years and in that time there's a very real risk that we literally die waiting.