Southern Wellingtonians urged to flee on foot in tsunami

7:53 am on 5 July 2017

Southern Wellington residents are being told to run to high ground immediately and leave their cars behind in the event of a tsunami.

Generic Wellington Airport; Hataitai; kilbirnie

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO) adviser Jason Paul recently co-ordinated a civil defence workshop aimed at ensuring everyone knows how to escape a tsunami.

The advice for residents in tsunami evacuation zones is to get to higher ground if they feel a long or strong earthquake (longer than a minute, or strong enough that it's hard to stand up), as soon as the shaking stops.

Mr Paul said, given the faultlines around Wellington and its history of earthquakes, in a worst-case scenario it would be just 10 minutes before a tsunami arrived on the south coast.

"You've got 10 minutes to get to a safe place. If you waste five of those minutes trying to find out more details about where the [earthquake] was, that's five minutes wasted.

"There is no time to jump on the GNS app or anything like that and find out where it is and then make a decision," he said.

The session on Tuesday, which about 70 residents attended, was for people living and working on the southern Wellington isthmus, which includes the suburbs of Kilbirnie, Lyall Bay and Rongotai.

View WREMO's tsunami evacuation zone maps for the region

Mr Paul made it clear that as long as people could walk or run, it was very important not to get in their cars.

He said that was because there was likely to be traffic, and roads needed to be as clear as possible so those unable to walk or run could get a ride out.

That stuck with Dipak Bhana, who works in Kilbirnie.

"We've only got 10 minutes to get to a higher point," he said.

"Some of our communities like the Rita Angus retirement home would need help or assistance with getting some of those members up there. Just thinking of the bigger picture, rather than just yourself.

"But as I said, you've only got 10 minutes."

Residents worried by Kaikōura earthquake response

Milling about the community hall before the workshop kicked off, Lyall Bay resident Renata Balfour said the local response to the Kaikōura earthquake last year was chaotic.

"I was quite concerned to see people running down the street outside my house, wearing dressing gowns and wielding torches and looking panicked.

Valerie Bruggemans and Martyn Howells hesitated before fleeing a potential tsunami after the Kaikōura earthquake.

Valerie Bruggemans and Martyn Howells hesitated before fleeing a potential tsunami after the Kaikōura earthquake. Photo: RNZ / Jacob Sterling

"I was panicking too. It would be nice to know if there is a more co-ordinated response that can be planned out of tonight."

From the other side of the airport in Moa Point and living barely 50m from the ocean, neighbours Martyn Howells and Valerie Bruggemans had the same sentiment.

"I said shall we go, shall we not," Mr Howells said.

"Once the tsunami warning came on the radio, I said we better go and yes we did, we hopped in the car and we drove up to Miramar," Valerie Bruggemans said.

The pair waited in the car on the side of the road for several hours before deciding to head home.

The residents were separated into groups and worked together to discuss routes to safe places and possible barriers to getting out in time.

At the end of the workshop Mr Paul was very happy with what he said was the best turnout he had seen at civil defence meetings with residents.

The workshop was the first of four to be held over the next few weeks.

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