A little after 2am yesterday a friend raced through the Wellington house yelling "We've got to get out. There's a tsunami coming."
It takes a bit to rouse yourself at that time. We had already been jolted awake at midnight when the big quake rocked the middle of the country. My wife dragged me up and we crouched in the bedroom doorway for what seemed an eternity.
The century-old wooden Lyall Bay house which stares out into Cook Strait where we were staying creaked and bobbled. Then things settled and in our bleary tired state we swapped notes with our friends, settled ourselves and felt the worse had passed.
There were GNS reports that the quake was centred further south, and while extremely large, seemed to have spent its fury. The radio reported there was trouble brewing in Kaikoura, and along the nearby coast. The initial adrenaline receded and tiredness crept back. We turned in again.
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It was our friend's mother who sounded the alarm. Despite Lyall Bay staring down the barrel of swells from the south, there was no siren or hammering on the door to warn that trouble was potentially on its way. She had heard the Civil Defence alert on her transistor, and called her sons, who live around the flat suburbs beside the Wellington Airport runway and which lie in the tsunami firing line.
I don't think I ever moved that quickly at such an ungodly hour. My wife pulled boots on over her pyjamas, I managed to get into a pair of sweats and sneakers. We grabbed water bottles and piled in the car. Heading up Sutherland Rd, which climbs above the bay, a line of cars was building. A few people wrapped in blankets were walking towards higher ground. There was still no siren, only the repeated radio warning that a tsunami had been generated and waves as high as 3 to 5m could be hitting exposed southern coasts.
Five metre waves, had they come, would have obliterated the house we had just left and everything in its path. It seems absurd that such a threat was possible yet exposed residents were none the wiser.
Alarms were sounded in Petone, at the head of Wellington Harbour, but not around the foreshore much closer to the actual threat. We heard there were unusual currents in the bay, the water falling away offshore before returning with unstoppable force. It could have been much, much worse. We spent nearly three hours up the hill, listening to the radio, chewing jelly beans - the only food we had - and wondering just how it would all end. For us it was okay. A few hours' sleep missed, but none of the terrible destruction that once again has been visited on Canterbury. Later yesterday we talked about the emergency kit we should have. It will be packed and ready for the next time.