New Zealand Civil Defence has issued a warning for people to stay off beaches, and watch out for strong currents or unpredictable surges in parts of the country following a tsunami on Tonga and damaging tidal surges in Northland.
Tsunami waves swamped low-lying areas of the Pacific Island nation on Saturday following an underwater volcanic eruption.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, US, confirmed the eruption generated a tsunami late on Saturday night. It followed an earlier eruption, on Friday, that sent ash, steam and gas 20 kilometres into the air.
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A combination of the tsunami surge and the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Cody has caused millions of dollars of damage at a Northland marina, and caused a number of Far North campgrounds to be evacuated overnight.
An advisory was issued at 8.15pm on Saturday to warn of strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges.
On Sunday morning, Civil Defence updated the advisory to warn people to stay off New Zealand beaches and shore areas on the north and east coast of the North Island and the Chatham Islands, where strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges were expected. It later extended the warning to include the west coast of the South Island.
Flooding of land near the shore was not expected, but people were advised to move out of the water, off beaches and shore areas and away from harbours, rivers and estuaries.
Civil Defence spokesman Andy Hammond-Tooke said the situation was “very unpredictable”, partly because it was caused by a volcano rather than and earthquake.
There was no current land threat to New Zealand but that would be reevaluated if there were further eruptions, he said.
A tsunami surge hit Tutukaka Marina at about 9.30pm on Saturday, causing a number of boats to sink and several others to break free from their mornings and come aground or run into other boats.
Murray Soljak, Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management spokesman, said the marina itself was also damaged, with part of the fuel jetty coming loose.
Those living aboard their boats in the marina were evacuated as a precaution.
Soljak said the marina has withstood four large tsunami surges since 2009 – when there was a tsunami in Samoa – and this is the worst damage he has seen, likely because the tsunami combined with the large seas of Tropical Cyclone Cody.
One boatie estimated millions of dollars of damage had been done at the marina, where the clean-up continues this morning.
Further north, a number of low-lying campgrounds were evacuated overnight due to tidal surges, including at Ahipara’s Shipwreck Bay, Spirits Bay and Puriri Bay northeast of Whangārei.
Police helped evacuate about 50 people from Mahinepua Bay at about midnight, but everyone was accounted for, a police spokeswoman said.
Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said the region was already on alert for unpredictable sea caused by Cyclone Cody, a subtropical weather system that appeared to be moving away from New Zealand on Sunday morning.
She was not aware, other than some mention of waves near Ruatoria, of any unusual waves by 8am on Sunday.
Lack of tsunami warning criticised
As the clean-up takes place at Tutukaka, some locals are questioning why there was no Civil Defence warning, no tsunami siren activation and no phone notification.
Northland has a series of tsunami sirens, which warn people to seek further information, most recently activated on March 5, 2021, in response to earthquakes in the Kermadec Islands.
One local boat owner, who asked not to be named but whose boat was destroyed, was concerned the sirens were not used to help prevent the damage.
But Soljak said an advisory on Saturday night warned of strong and unusual currents, but there was no need for a widespread evacuation for people on land.
There had also already been warnings issued about strong currents due to Tropical Cyclone Cody, which warned against swimming and boating in the northern North Island.
While there was significant damage to Tutukaka Marina, Soljak said it was very localised.