New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has taken the country’s frightening tsunami threat in her famously unflappable style, declaring it part of a “run of bad luck”.
Thousands of New Zealanders headed for the hills on Friday morning after three earthquakes off the country’s north-east and near the Kermadec Islands sparked a worrying tsunami alarm.
In the end, small tsunami waves triggered by the powerful earthquakes hit the east coast of North Island, but there was no damage and the crisis was short-lived.
Ms Ardern was briefed on the potential crisis on her way into work on Friday.
“Bugger it,” she told Kiwi journalists when asked how she felt dealing with a pandemic and the triple earthquake whammy that struck on Friday.
Warnings after the flurry of earthquakes extended as far as Auckland, the country’s largest city. It is still under tight coronavirus restrictions after a outbreak of the virus.
“It is hard not to feel like our country is having a run of bad luck, when you have an earthquake, tsunami alert and pandemic all to contend with in one day,” Ms Ardern said.
“We have had our share of tough moments in this country but within that we have always been blessed with incredible people who work in our emergency system. And I include in that our civil defence response teams nationally and locally. To them I say, thank you for your work.”
Ardern famously talked her way through a media interview as a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit Wellington in May 2020.
Auckland, which has had no new COVID cases for five days, will ease stay-at-home rules from Sunday.
Elsewhere though, officials had warned waves could reach three metres above high tide levels after the quakes – the strongest a magnitude 8.1 – but the largest had passed, the National Emergency Management Agency said as it downgraded the threat early on Friday afternoon.
“All people who evacuated can now return,” the agency said.
Video on social media showed surges of water entering a marina in Northland and on North Island’s East Cape region.
Earlier, workers, students and residents in areas such as Northland and Bay of Plenty, on the northern coast near Auckland, were put on alert after three offshore quakes in less than eight hours triggered tsunami sirens.
An emergency alert was issued for all coastal areas around Auckland, a city of 1.7 million, where people were told to stay away from the water’s edge. There were no reports of damage or casualties.
The third and strongest quake struck the Kermadec Islands, north-east of North Island, on Friday morning, coming shortly after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in the same region.
Earlier, a large 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck about 900 km away on the east of North Island.
Linda Tatare, a resident of Anaura Bay, on North Island’s east coast, said the small community of about 50 left for higher ground in the morning.
“Everyone, and their dogs, are up in the hills,” Ms Tatare said.
“We are safe. We can all see our properties from here.”
There were similar warnings for Pacific islands, including New Caledonia and Vanuatu, and Norfolk Island, where the Bureau of Meteorology confirmed a 60-centimetre wave hit.
Australia issued a marine tsunami threat for Norfolk Island, which has about 1750 residents, but said there was no threat to the mainland.
Norfolk Island residents in areas threatened by land inundation or flooding were advised to go to higher ground or inland as small tsunami waves impacted the coastline.
Smaller tsunami waves were also expected as far away as Antarctica and parts of South America, the US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
Scientists said the series of quakes was caused by tectonic movement on the boundary of the Australian and Pacific plates, part of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire New Zealand sits on.