New Zealand: Powerful earthquakes trigger brief tsunami warning, mass evacuation

Three powerful earthquakes off the coast of New Zealand triggered a brief tsunami warning, forcing evacuation orders for hundreds of residents.

The national emergency agency warned of a tsunami threat along the east coast.

There were reports of chaos in some towns as hundreds of people tried to reach higher ground.

The three earthquakes all came during early hours at magnitudes of over seven. The most powerful, at 8.1 magnitude.

While earlier tsunami warnings had been called off, the third quake prompted the National Emergency Management Agency to send out a new alert and tsunami sirens sounded in some areas.

But by Friday afternoon, authorities said the largest waves had passed. Residents were told they could return home but were warned to stay off beaches.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern posted on Instagram: “Hope everyone is ok out there.”

Local media reported gridlock in towns such as Whangarei and Whakatane as people tried to flee their homes, schools and workplaces.

In nearby Ohope town, resident Leslie Peake was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying the traffic was “bumper to bumper” with “huge queues of people evacuating”.

New Zealand’s civil defence department advised people to walk or cycle to avoid getting caught in traffic

The South Pacific archipelagos of New Caledonia and Vanuatu were also warned to prepare for dangerous waves.

Just last week, New Zealand marked the 10th anniversary of the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that destroyed parts of Christchurch in the south Island, killing 185 people.