An 84-year-old woman who self-evacuated after Monday's tsunami scare was rescued by a kind stranger after she was spotted riding her mobility scooter on a state highway.

Sheila McLean, a resident of Bayswater Retirement Village in Mt Maunganui, got a phone call from her daughter in Hamilton about 2am on Monday telling her to evacuate immediately.

Her daughter had received a Civil Defence alert urging people living in coastal areas to get to higher ground.

McLean grabbed warm clothing, jumped on her mobility scooter and headed to the nearest evacuation point, Baypark Stadium.


She did not see any lights on or movement from the other 280 residents in her village.

She drove her scooter to Baypark and, struggling to find the entrance, drove along State Highway 29A until a kind stranger, Angela Neville, stopped to help.

"It would be a real catastrophe if there was a real tsunami here," McLean said.

She was concerned there was no one at Baypark to help evacuees.

"I went to Baypark and there wasn't a soul there."

McLean said either there was a lot of complacency in the community about tsunami threats, or many people did not get the warning.

She suspected the other residents in her village did not have a cellphone, or did not have it turned on, and that was why no one else had evacuated.

"We need a siren like in war times, people everywhere will hear it and know exactly what it means."

Neville self-evacuated with her two children and her cat, and was worried when she saw McLean on the highway on her mobility scooter heading towards Maungatapu. She offered a ride to the older woman, who was about 100m from Baypark, and together they stayed at Neville's sister's house in Welcome Bay until the threat passed.

Neville was also concerned about the lack of response in her neighbourhood.

"It felt unnatural to be driving off thinking 'are people ignoring the warning or are they asleep and don't know'?"

Neville also wanted sirens but said, in the meantime, anyone evacuating should beep their car horns and make noise to wake neighbours.

"We can actually do a lot ourselves in the meantime by creating noise when you go. We really need a community effort to help our neighbours, especially those that are vulnerable.

"We need to be able to present a solution to the community so people feel safe."

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

"We're sorry that it was a scary experience for her.

"We have some concerns about why she evacuated from a retirement village on her own. We would expect that retirement homes and villages have evacuation plans for their residents."

Baunton said Civil Defence would not receive people at the safe assembly areas during a tsunami evacuation, and people were asked to be self-reliant for the first few hours at least.

Metlifecare operations manager Joanne Coates-Reid said the organisation's villages, including Bayswater, had comprehensive disaster management plans.

"As the roads around Maranui St, Bayfair and exits towards inland areas would be gridlocked very quickly, given that Bayswater is 7m above high tide, advice was provided to the village that they would be better to stay in the village and move to the two-storey buildings on site. Most moderate tsunamis were not perceived to be a significant threat to people's lives at Bayswater," Coates-Reid said.

Contingencies were in place to alert residents of any potential threat and, after receiving the first Civil Defence alert, the staff member on duty on Monday monitored news reports and determined there was no threat to residents.

"We are confident that the correct process was followed at Bayswater village, and that the safety of our residents with the threat of a tsunami was closely monitored at all times," Coates-Reid said.