Samoa Quake and Tsunami Response - Wellington

1 October 2009

The response of Wellingtonians to yesterday's Pacific earthquake and tsunami alert was highly satisfactory - but their thoughts should now be with the region's Samoan community, says Wellington's Acting Mayor, Ian McKinnon.

"The quake and tsunami has caused terrible devastation in parts of Samoa and American Samoa. I am aware there is understandable distress in the local Samoan community because of the obvious strong family ties binding New Zealand and Samoa.

"The City Council will liaise with the Government and the local Pasifika community to help offer assistance to the Samoan nations and to the local Samoan community if necessary."

Cr McKinnon says the response of national and local emergency management systems - coupled with a generally responsible approach by Wellingtonians - meant yesterday's tsunami alert passed with no major problems.

The Council's emergency management staff were on alert as soon as word came through and monitored reports closely from then on. Patrols were sent to the south coast and harbour approaches in vehicles to advise people, some being fishermen, to vacate those areas.

A helicopter also flew the area from Sinclair Head to the harbour and used the Council's emergency public-address system to alert a number of people. "The high-volume system worked well - the helicopter flew at a height of about 300 feet and the messages were well-received from the ground. I'm told the crew got a lot of thumbs-up responses."

The Council's Customer Contact Centre received about 70 calls during the morning from Wellingtonians trying to get more information about the emergency.

"The advice from this morning is that people must listen to the radio at such times - and keep a radio at hand during such alerts. It really does appear to be the best way to keep up with developments."

Cr McKinnon says it appears a small number of people were seen to be walking and driving to the beaches this morning - probably out of curiosity. "It's not a wise decision - if a tsunami of any significant size arrives then by the time you see it, it'll be too late to escape to safety."

He says yesterday morning's alert was a "decent wake-up call" for Wellingtonians to be prepared for a very large quake or other big emergency.

It is also a reminder to residents living on or near the South Coast and around the region's coastline that they are at risk of being overwhelmed by a quake-generated tsunami.

"If people are by the sea or in low-lying areas like Kilbirnie, Seatoun or Island Bay, and they feel a very strong quake, then they should immediately head inland or to higher ground once the shaking stops. If a quake sets off a tsunami in Cook Strait then there'll be only a matter of minutes for people to get to safety before the wave hits."

People should think and plan on how they will get themselves, their families and their neighbours to safety as quickly and easily as possible, says Cr McKinnon.