18 Sep 2015

Tsunami waves hit New Zealand

7:51 am on 18 September 2015

Tsunami warnings remain in place for the east coast of New Zealand and the Chatham Islands after Chile's massive earthquake.

No caption

The Eastern areas of New Zealand - as highlighted in this Civil Defence graphic - are most at risk of tidal surges. Photo: Supplied / Civil Defence

The Chathams have had surges of up to half a metre, and Gisborne and other areas on the east coasts have recorded up to 30 centimetres.

Civil Defence said the activity, which could intensify, may continue for several hours and the threat must be regarded as real until the tsunami warning was cancelled.

Civil Defence director Sarah Stuart-Black told Morning Report today the tsunami was what they expected.

"We're seeing changes in tidal and coastal patterns, which is what we have seen in past instances of tsunami, and also what the science advice gave us yesterday."

She said the tsunami expert panel would meet in two hours to evaluate the situation.

The first waves reached the Chatham Islands at 11.50pm.

The Chatham Islands Council reported repeated ebbing and flowing of the tide, and ocean noises associated with tidal surges.

Three families evacuated their homes because of the tsunami warning.

Mayor Alfred Preece told Morning Report the families that evacuated lived on very low lying land.

He said there had been no damage for the waves but islanders have had similar warnings before and take them seriously.

"We're being cautious. We've seen the effects it's had in Chile, so these things are real, and we're definitely very respectful."

Mr Preece said the island was still on watch until they get word from Civil Defence that the danger has passed.

Small tsunami waves have also been reported in California and Hawaii.

A Northland dive company owner says waves with a speed of up to 22 kilometres an hour were hitting the coast of Tutukaka early this morning.

The co-owner of Dive! Tutukaka, Kate Malcolm, told Morning Report the surge at the marina was freaky, with the waves coming in strongly at a height of about half a metre.

Ms Malcolm said she saw a boat getting ready to go fishing, when a surge came through and the mooring lines broke.

She said it sat there for a couple of hours with its motor running to hold its position.

"They were significant when they were coming in through that bottleneck. They were a solid 10-12 knots coming in for a good seven to eight minutes at that speed, and then there would be a lull and then it would go straight back out again at that speed."

The official advice is to be very cautious on beaches, and at harbours and estuaries

no caption

The earthquake struck off the coast of Chile at about 11am NZST. Photo: US Geological Survey

Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management spokesman Shane Bayley said the tsunami would roll in at different times.

The magnitude 8.3 earthquake struck off the coast of Chile yesterday morning New Zealand time.

More on tsunami alerts for Chile and the Pacific

At least 10 people are known to have died in Chile and waves up to four-and-a-half metres surged through coastal towns.

The Chilean government says the port of Coquimbo had suffered major damage.

Rescue and medical teams are at work in many centres, and residents have been trying to salvage belongings from their wrecked homes.

The tsunami warning has now been lifted, but large aftershocks have been continuing - the most recent above magnitude-5.

One million people were evacuated from their homes in anticipation of the tsunami surges

Area warnings by region

Chatham Islands

Chatham Islands mayor Alfred Preece earlier said the predicted 1m high tsunami wave around the coast was not significant.

Locals were being cautious and taking the warning seriously, but the island was used to big seas and had been through this kind of exercise before.

Mr Preece said it had a few things in its favour, as the sea was already calm and the tsunami would hit when the tide was falling.

He said they were expecting information about the tsunami from Easter Island which will give them a better idea of what to expect.

Coromandel Peninsular

Coromandel residents were advised to stay off the beach and shore areas and people with boats should check their moorings before dark.

They will mostly occur at sea and off the coast and any inundation from waves or surges are expected to be limited to very low-lying areas.

Civil defence controller for the Coromandel Gary Towler said the inundation would likely be similar to a king tide or storm surge at worst.

"The warnings are going out to people, firstly it's to all the boaties that have got boats moored around the peninsulas, if they do have the chance before dark to check their moorings.

"As the evening progresses we're working with police and the surf clubs to just go down and advise, put up signs to warn people to stay off the beach or the shore areas and not to go sight-seeing."

Strong inner harbour currents and unusual tide movements could happen during high tide about 10am tomorrow.

Hawke's Bay

Hawke's Bay Civil Defence warned people to stay away from the coast, especially fishermen and recreational users, for the next 48 hours.

Strong currents and unusual tidal action were expected during the coming days and the region's Civil Defence group controller Liz Lambert said that while the height of the tsunami waves would not be high, they did present a risk to people in or near the water at river mouths, marinas, jetties, around rocks or underwater landforms.

Whitebaiters and divers were likely to be the most at risk, she said.

"The tsunami just doesn't come as a single event, it's a series of waves, and certainly sometimes the velocity is quite significant.

"We have whitebaiting season under way at the moment, there are other recreational users around rivermouths, estuaries and the coast, so really our messages are around warning them about staying away."


The Wellington region will experience unusual currents and unpredictable water flows in the coastal areas adjacent in Wairarapa from midnight.

People are advised to be careful in and around the ocean, coastal regions, estuaries and harbours, through to Saturday evening.

Civil Defence said similar events in the past had caused an increase in the number of surf rescues around the country and people are advised to avoid going swimming, diving, kayaking and other sea based activities until Sunday.

People should avoid the beach along the Masterton-Tararua coast, and stay above the high tide mark in the rest of the region.


Northland is expected to experience some coastal disturbance, although the impact is likely to be relatively minor.

Tidal variations of up to 30cm could affect parts of the region's east coast from North Cape to Cape Karikari from some time after midnight.

Northland Civil Defence manager Graeme MacDonald said unusual currents and tidal movements could be expected for up to 14 hours from midnight.

"We've had these sorts of events previously. We know that some of the small harbours ... can expect some unusual tidal surges so our advice is for people to stay off the water unless absolutely necessary."

National centre activated

Civil Defence Minister Nikki Kaye

Nikki Kaye Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Civil Defence Minister Nikki Kaye earlier said the National Crisis Management Centre had been activated.

"I think people just need to be prepared, be vigilant about it, listen to the updates and be sensible, because it is much better to take a precautionary approach than anything else," she said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said waves of up to 1 metre could hit New Zealand, while waves of 1 to 3 metres could hit French Polynesia.

New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga and other island nations are also being warned of 1m waves. Smaller waves may hit Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Hazardous tsunami waves from the quake are possible along the coasts of Chile and Peru over the next several hours, the centre said. Chile's government has urged residents to evacuate the coastline.

Are you a New Zealander in Chile? Let us know what you're experiencing. Email us at iwitness@radionz.co.nz

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said there were currently 60 New Zealanders living in Chile.

There are another 59 New Zealanders registered in Peru, where tsunami warnings have also been put in place.

It has advised New Zealanders to follow local authorities' advice and keep their families back home informed.