Be ready at any moment to flee your home for three days.
That's the advice from a Bay of Plenty community leader after earthquakes and tsunami alerts caused disruption across the Bay of Plenty and other parts of the country yesterday.
People from across the region fled for higher ground after a powerful magnitude 8.1 earthquake in the Kermadec area about 1000km northeast of New Zealand triggered a tsunami warning.
The emergency has also renewed calls for tsunami sirens to be installed along the coast.
Yesterday's 8.28am Kermadec quake happened after a 7.3 quake struck at 2.27am about 95km east of Te Araroa, before a 7.4 event was recorded at 6.41am off Raoul Island.
The series of quakes meant some coastal dwellers were forced to evacuate twice.
The tsunami warning eased about 1.15pm after the largest waves had passed and by 3pm the tsunami warning region was cancelled.
The Bay of Plenty Civil Defence praised coastal communities for taking action in their flee to safety.
Western Bay of Plenty mayor Garry Webber said it was "very pleasing" to see so many people had heeded the "Long or Strong, Get Gone" Civil Defence safety messages and self-evacuated to higher ground.
"It's exactly what we wanted to see people do as it is always better to be safe than sorry."
Webber said most people did the right thing and he understood Fire and Emergency NZ staff in Maketū and Pukehina helped in spreading these safety messages.
"These quakes are an important reminder to us all that we need to ensure we're ready to evacuate for at least three days at any time in the event of any Civil Defence state of emergency."
Bay of Plenty Civil Defence group controller Matt Harrex said these events were always stressful for the community but the organisation was pleased with how the community responded.
"The community deserves a lot of credit for this," he said.
"They responded in that way that we have always asked, taking action when they felt natural warning signs of a long or strong earthquake, and also when a formal warning came through as an Emergency Mobile Alert.
"It was terrific to see people doing what we needed them to do to keep themselves and their communities safe."
Harrex said civil defence had heard stories of people opening their homes for those who had been evacuated and thanked the community for sharing messages and sending photos.
"Iwi and hapū along the coast have again lead from the front providing support and looking after anyone who needed it. It was great to see whanaunatanga happening across the region.
"This is critical to helping us get a picture for what was happening at different locations, and identifying any issues that may have needed our help. Civil Defence is everyone and we can't do it without the community."
The National Emergency Management Agency did not advise anyone to evacuate but lines of cars were seen leaving Ōhope.
Many took to Facebook to voice their concerns and offer guidance.
"Good on those who used their own brains and evacuated, instead of waiting to be told what to do," one said.
Ōpōtiki mayor Lyn Riesterer said most in the town who evacuated for the first quake had returned home by around 8am.
Ōhope Christian Camp manager Paul Atkinson said the earthquake woke everyone up but there was no damage done.
"It was very big, it went for a long time," he said.
"We were here for the Edgecumbe one a few years ago so it does bring back those memories, it is a bit scary.
"We didn't get a tsunami warning on our phones or anything but apparently there were people in Whakatāne going to the top of hills."
That was all before the magnitude 8.1 hit the Kermadec area.
Most Pukehina residents self-evacuated to higher ground and people rallied to help each other get to safety quickly.
Pukehina mother-of-two Keita Durie said she and her partner Richie Martin had no idea a large quake had hit the country until they received a few text messages asking if they were okay.
Durie said she and her partner also had no idea people were being asked to self-evacuate until she took her two children to daycare in Maketū about 9am.
She said the local fire brigade was also going door-to-door urging people to head to higher ground.
"It was a bit confusing to know what to take so we just grabbed a few things and our dog and drove to my partner's father's place in Rotorua.
"It was a bit scary but luckily my young fella was oblivious to it all and he fell asleep on the way there and my oldest was just excited to be able to visit her koro. "
She said it was a good reminder of how important it was to be ready to respond to a Civil Defence emergency, including having plenty of water, food, and other essentials on hand.
Ray White Pukehina owner Rochelle Carter said lots of residents headed to cafes in Te Puke and Paengaroa and waited for more news when it was safe.
"Most residents headed to the Civil Defence evacuation area at Pongakawa School Hall
where there was food, water, coffee, tea, and accommodation for those who needed it.
Civil Defence told people near the coast to "move immediately" and head for higher ground or head inland.
Whakatāne resident Maci Bateson, 18, said she was woken up by her mother saying they needed to evacuate immediately.
"We didn't take time to pack or anything, we just got in the car and left."
They decided to head to her grandparents' farm in Poroporo, a rural suburb about 10km from Whakatāne.
The family live near the town centre and Bateson said they struggled to even get out of their own driveway as people parked cars on verges and ran for the nearby hill.
"There were people just parking up and running."
Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner said the town was "stunned" by the calls to evacuate and traffic quickly built up in the area.
While plenty fled their homes and workplaces, Whakatāne Hospital did not evacuate its patients due to it being located outside of the Civil Defence inundation zone.
Patients and staff were relocated to the first floor of the Dawson Block on the campus and medical care continued to be given.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board emergency operations controller Brent Gilbert-De Rios said staff acted calmly and were "superb".
At Ōhope Beach, vehicles lined the sides of roads on the hill and the town was left motionless as people sought safety.
Elsewhere, Ōpōtiki mayor Lyn Riesterer said most of the town's population of about 4800 people were forced to evacuate.
A full operation quickly got established at Pāpāmoa Hills Regional Park as scores of people headed for higher ground.
The main carpark was blocked and wardens were directing people into a separate area designated for parking.
The tsunami warning was the second in the Bay of Plenty within the past month and underlines the importance of having sirens installed to alert coastal dwellers, locals say.
The tsunami warning zone spread from Matatā eastwards but for Steve Morris it's a little close to home for those in the Tauranga area.
Morris, who was among elected Tauranga Council members replaced by the commission, said not installing the sirens was "a lot of risk to life".
He said yesterday's tsunami threat highlighted how critical it was for the council's commissioners to commit to the investment.
"I think the community would be very disappointed if they didn't. Not everybody has their phone close to them or turned on."
In 2019, the council gave the go-ahead for up to 12 tsunami sirens to be installed between Pāpāmoa East and Ōmanu over the next two years.
None have been installed.
Last month the council's community services general manager, Gareth Wallis, said the initial 2021 completion date had previously been updated to December 2022 as the project progressed.
He confirmed the project had since been delayed and the council was now working to a Covid-adjusted timeline of completion by June 2023.
The project would be within existing budgets of around $3.1 million, he said.
Mount Maunganui Residents, Ratepayers and Retailers Association president Michael O'Neill said there had been strong interest in having the sirens installed.
He said there were plenty of elderly people in the suburb who were not technology-savvy who could have missed an alert if one was issued for the area.
Pāpāmoa Residents and Ratepayers Association chairman Philip Brown emphasised how easily the system worked and said sirens should be installed promptly.
"It's the easiest way to get the message out there … it's so simple," he said.