Hawke's Bay's Civil Defence says it will review its communication with the public during Friday's three large earthquakes - and subsequent red-zone tsunami evacuation.
But it also says in a significant disaster, personal responsibility is important, and it's a timely reminder that those in a tsunami zone need to inform and prepare themselves for a big event.
Hundreds in the region self-evacuated in the early hours of Friday morning and more than 500 people moved to the top of Napier's Bluff Hill on Friday afternoon amid at-times fluid advice.
After the third large earthquake at 8.28am, an 8.1 earthquake near the Kermadec Islands, Civil Defence issued a beach and marine threat for Hawke's Bay, and asked everyone in the tsunami red-zone to evacuate to higher ground.
This then led to a flurry of people trying to check if they were in the red zone, which crashed Civil Defence's interactive map.
It came just hours after Hawke's Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group raised eyebrows for posting what appeared to be conflicting messages immediately after the first 7.1 magnitude tremor that struck off the east coast of the North Island at 2.27am.
THE FIRST QUAKE: I 'GOT GOING'
The quake caused widespread "severe" shaking and woke thousands of Hawke's Bay residents, many of who evacuated to higher ground.
Hawke's Bay's Civil Defence Emergency Management Group initially noted in a Facebook post that the 2.27am quake was "unlikely" to pose a tsunami threat.
That led to many locals expressing frustration - with people referring to Government messaging that if a quake is long or strong, get gone.
Up to 30 minutes later the post was edited to match the national Civil Defence advice to take refuge on higher ground if you were in coastal communities.
"If there had been a tsunami most folk in red zone would have been up the creek without a paddle," said on concerned Hawke's Bay resident who had experienced the deadly Christchurch earthquake 10 years ago.
From experience she didn't wait for public advice, but instead put her children in the car and "got going".
MISINFORMATION ALWAYS POSSIBLE
Hawke's Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group controller Ian Macdonald said the ever-changing event meant misinformation was a possibility at times.
"There are areas of communication to be improved, but it's the nature of managing an emergency and by its very nature information is often incomplete and received piecemeal," he said.
Macdonald said his team must wait for national advice before sharing information, which often is not received at once.
"We knew pretty early on based on the magnitude, depth and location of the first earthquake that we were looking at something pretty minor.
"Social media is there to keep people informed quickly as possible, and if you get it wrong then you correct it."
PORT'S EXEMPLARY EVACUATION
Once the third quake struck, warnings were again put out, with people told to expect wave activity up to one metre high in Hawke's Bay at 10.45am, with strong, unusual currents and unpredictable surges expected to continue for several hours.
A Napier Port evacuation siren and a voice over a loud speaker could be heard in Ahuriri and on Marine Pde telling staff "this is not a drill" and to evacuate about 10.20am.
Locals were advised to stay away from beaches and waterfronts (up to 2m above sea level).
Coastal areas, including Central Hawke's Bay and Waimarama beaches, were patrolled by emergency services to ensure people stayed out of the water.
One woman working in Ahuriri, who did not wish to be named, said most people in the area had seemed unfazed and a few people had even gone for a morning swim.
"Nobody was that stressed."
Simon Osborne, safety and emergency management advisor at Napier Port, said staff made their way up to Bluff Hill at about 10.45am following advice from Civil Defence and Emergency Management.
"One we were advised we were in the red zone and had to evacuate the port, we used the warning system which sounds like a siren but it's basically with a tone followed by a voiceover," he said.
He said staff made their way up to the hill on foot through the port's central tsunami gate and another near the western entrance.
Container operations at the port were initially stopped around 3am, but had resumed as normal by 7am prior to the second and third earthquakes.
Napier Port chief executive Todd Dawson said a tsunami evacuation practice run a few months prior had "paid off".
"People knew what they were doing, where to go and what to expect," he said. "There can be anywhere between 200, 300 or 400 people on the port at any one time."
Dawson said staff were given water, hot cross buns and sunscreen while waiting for the all clear.
By 1.45pm, port workers had been allowed to leave Bluff Hill and had resumed operations by 2pm.
CIVIL DEFENCE: HB HAS NO TSUNAMI SIRENS
Macdonald reminded the public that Hawke's Bay does not have a tsunami siren, and never has.
"It's a common fallacy and causes big confusion here," he said. "Individual fire trucks and police were going around with their sirens going so they could get the attention of people.
"The only siren system we have in Hawke's Bay is in Napier and it's not a tsunami siren – it's just a mass public alerting system."
Macdonald added: "Setting off sirens for this event would have been really thorny issue. More people get injured and killed in evacuations than they would in the event itself."
Westshore Primary School and Te Awa School also evacuated students and staff as a precaution.
Napier Central School played host to hundreds of other students from Te Awa School and Westshore School after they were evacuated as a precaution.
While not in the red zone Westshore School principal Martin Madden said they took a "precautionary response" opting to move students, who were due to take part in the school swimming sports day, to higher ground.
"It's just not worth the risk," he said.
He praised the efforts of staff, students and the community alike - many parents had helped ferry students to the school on higher ground.
Madden was particularly grateful to staff at Napier Central and said he "couldn't have asked for more".
"They were really welcoming and provided some food."
Hawke's Bay's tsunami red zone does not include Napier's CBD. Full maps here: https://www.facebook.com/hbemergency/posts/4482099631816472
WEBSITE CRASH AND PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Hawke's Bay resident Nicky Spencers said she had concerns over the handling of the event after the Civil Defence website crashed, labelling the organisation's communication as "atrocious".
"Where was the clear message saying the red zone needs to evacuate? The important instruction was lost and hidden in the middle of their third post at the end of a paragraph, almost like an afterthought," she said.
"The first thing people saw when going to their Facebook page is a post apologising about their website fail."
Fellow local Peter Malcouronne said Civil Defence should have also put clear time stamps on their posts.
"Given the severity of the shake, it's not unreasonable for people to expect a more timely response," he said. "There are people with kids in cars waiting to hear from them."
Ahuriri resident Gillian Scott said confusion levels were high after sirens and a loudspeaker were heard from Battery Rd.
"We thought perhaps they were testing their emergency systems or warning people to stay off the beach," she said.
"I'm alone at home and recovering from a broken ankle so not mobile enough to go about asking, and feeling a bit anxious."
Macdonald said the website issues were down to the sheer volume of visitors.
"It's been tested in the past and worked fine, but it didn't work last night. And we will certainly look at that moving forward to increase its capability," he said.
He said lessons will be learnt and changes will be made to systems and processes.
"We review every event and put in place lessons and actions to deal with whatever issues arise," he said.
"But there is an element of self-responsibility. If you live close to the coast you need to know what tsunami zone you're in and an evacuation route – it's a personal responsibility."
PUT A MASK IN YOUR EVACUATION GRAB BAG
Local councils and Civil Defence reminded the public that evacuation advice overrides the current Covid-19 alert level requirements.
Macdonald recommended putting hand sanitiser and face masks into your evacuation grab bags.
"There have been a lot of contingency plans since the start of Covid and about concurrent events," he said.
"One of the guiding principles is that life is more important – the immediate loss of life from an earthquake and tsunami could be horrendous."
Listen to latest reports on Newstalk ZB:
The earthquakes also caused moderate disruptions to rail services and retail stores across the region.
KiwiRail chief operating officer Todd Moyle said safety was "paramount" and it was standard practice for the network in the impacted area to be closed following significant seismic events, for inspections to be undertaken for track damage.
"Shortly after the earthquake, we shut our network from Napier to Wairoa, from Tauranga to Kawerau, and from Kawerau to Murupara, pending inspections by track staff," he said.
He said two log services were halted but had both resumed their services and no other freight services were affected.
Farmers director Michael Power said the Hastings and Napier stores were closed to allow engineers to assess whether there was any damage as a result of the earthquakes.
"Engineers have completed their assessment and have advised both stores can reopen. Both stores have now opened," he said.
A sign also came loose on a building on Marine Pde, Wairoa, about 6.08am on Friday.
Firefighters attended and secured the sign.
Cape Kidnappers was also closed.