Tsunami warning: Gridlock as people flee to higher ground following earthquakes

* Swarm of earthquakes in Pacific – including magnitude 8.1 quake in Kermadec Islands at 8.28am (NZT) – spark Civil Defence warnings.
* Tsunami warning for large parts of North Island coast – people near coast from the Bay of Islands to Whangārei, from Matata to Tolaga Bay, Great Barrier Island, and west coast of the North Island from Cape Reinga to Ahipara told to move immediately
* There are two different types of tsumani threat. Most of the country is under a beach and marine threat. But the parts where evacuations are taking place are under a land and marine threat.
* Evacuation orders “not done lightly” and on basis of watching tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan, official says. “We want people to take this seriously.”
* 8.1 earthquake followed 7.4 shake at 6.41am and 7.3 quake off North Island coast at 2.27am

There’s been mixed reaction to mass evacuations this morning, with many people walking calmly to the hills – while others rushing in panic and creating gridlock as hundreds of motorists try to flee city centres.

Parents quickly headed to daycares and schools to try and collect students as soon as evacuations alerts went of this morning. Many other children were taken by teachers and are in the process walking up their nearest hills, where many other people are already gathered.

And in some areas, like Tologa Bay, people have headed to the beach to take photographs following a series of large earthquakes which have triggered tsunami warnings for large parts of the North Island Coast.

The national emergency management agency is urging people not return to low-lying coastal areas until the all-clear is given by Civil Defence. They are also telling people to walk, run or cycle if possible to reduce the chance of getting stuck in traffic.

In Whangārei, traffic was heavy and the town centre was packed as people tried to evacuate.

“[There were] heaps of people standing on the street outside their workplaces,” said one worker.

Ben Torkington tweeted just after 9am that there were “absolute scenes” in Whangārei’s CBD.

“Just as many people going into town as leaving it.

“Biggest danger to me seems to be cars. Everybody is losing it. Carters truck took a roundabout too fast and lost its load in Okara.”

Elim Christian Learning Centre head teacher Heather Castell said only 11 children were left for staff to evacuate.

A lot of parents picked their children up en route out of town and left a note on the front glass door.

The children, however, were treating it as an adventure as they headed up Anzac Rd in Morningside.

“The kids have been excited, pointing out trucks. Why is the moon out during the day. They’re saying we’re going on an awesome walk up the hill.”

By 9.30am, roads out of Marsden Point refinery were gridlocked with people trying to get to higher ground.

Janice Shepherd, a retiree, from Haruru was at Pak’nSave in central Whangārei when she got an alert on her phone, followed by an announcement over the supermarket speaker instructing everyone to evacuate.

“I just left our trolley and went. Everybody was pretty calm but trying to get out. On the road from the carpark was the worst.”

Shepherd and her family were high on the hill on Anzac Rd looking down on the city where they could see a long line or traffic headed along Riverside Dr towards Onerahi.

Reporter Katee Shanks said traffic was bedlam in Whakatāne.

A woman called Michelle told Newstalk ZB that police are stopping people heading over the bridge into Whakatāne.

She said there is a lot of confusion. And a lot of people are not leaving. “It’s a bit scary.”

“I’m leaving because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. People are mobilising, but some are heading on a road to nowhere.

In Ōhope, residents quickly fled their homes and were making their way up to higher ground, including Ōhope hill.

There was lots of noise, especially from school children who were being walked by teachers, who left school with nothing but their handbags.

Mayor Lyn Riesterer said most of the coastal Bay of Plenty town needed to evacuate.

“Most people are underway, all moving out,” Riesterer said. “All of the alerts went off on mobile phones at the same time so everyone is moving.

“People know where to go. They either head towards Gisborne or they come up to Hospital Hill.”

Leslie Peake said traffic was “bumper to bumper” all the way down the main drag Harbour Rd and there were “huge queues of people evacuating”.

She said the mood was highly “stressful” and she and her husband would not be getting to higher ground for a while as they waited in traffic.

Hills across the town were “full” with people seen sitting at the top looking out at the ocean, she said.

She said she had been in her bedroom when she received the alert and saw it pop up on the television so she and her husband loaded up their car with their cat and dog.

“We thought maybe we should get moving.”

This morning’s quake had been really strong where Peake was and she said it had been “really rocking and rolling” and “went on for ages”.

“It was really rattling for some time.”

John Carter, Far North Mayor, told Newstalk ZB the message to evacuate to higher ground was getting through and the roads were fine where he was at a village of about 80 people.

He said many people have taken clothes with them and were acting responsibly.

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