Wave warning system introduced after huge swell hit Wellington

7:43 pm on 4 May 2020

Residents on Wellington's south coast say the swift introduction of a wave warning system is a victory for people power.

Massive waves wash over Ōwhiro Bay.

Massive waves wash over Ōwhiro Bay. Photo: Supplied / Donna Drinkwater

A massive swell last month sent huge waves crashing into the capital's south coast, injuring people and washing someone out to sea, damaging property and forcing evacuations.

Now, MetService will provide swell warnings for Wellington's south coast and harbour - including the Eastbourne-Pencarrow coast - to Wellington City and Regional Councils, Hutt City Council and civil defence.

Ōwhiro Bay resident Eugene Doyle said there were beautiful clear skies on the day of the swells, with no indication from the weather forecast of what was to come.

Waves damaged property on Wellington's south coast

Photo: Supplied / Jemima Joy

"Because this was a swell event that had been generated thousands of kilometres offshore near the Chatham Islands ... [it was a] massive storm that then just pushed these waves forward towards us.

"It wasn't a typical big windy day ... high seas ... this was visited on us from afar."

He said he did some digging after the event and discovered MetService and Niwa had known the waves were coming for at least two days but had no formal way to notify the local council.

He said he called a community meeting for a debrief about what happened which was attended by the the residents association, MetService, civil defence and city councillors.

Doyle said if he had not worked hard to investigate the incident and arrange the meeting then the council would not have done anything about it for months.

"We were very upset as a community that this excellent data was available and the dots weren't joined.

"I think the positive that I'd like to focus in on is actually this event has shown the power of when you actually do a proper debrief."

He said he was really happy with the speed that the wave warning system had come together, and the cooperation from all the parties led by the local community.

"The result was terrific because you ended up with a very effective partnership between the meteorologists, the emergency management people, the city of Wellington, and very importantly - out in front - the residents' association."

Annoyed that sewage and other contaminants are polluting area's waterways

Eugene Doyle at Ōwhiro Bay on a calmer day. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Thomas

He said warning systems were only going to become more crucial as climate change made these kinds of events occur more often.

Southern ward councillor Fleur Fitzsimons said Doyle and the residents' association deserved credit from bringing everyone together and asking the hard questions that led to changes.

A Wellington civil defence report into the incident will be out in a week.

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