Scientists have warned that New Zealand is ‘very likely’ to be struck by major aftershocks of magnitude 7.0 to 7.9 in the coming days.
On the Richter scale, 7.9 is a major earthquake that can inflict serious and deadly damage – and generate tsunamis.
Scientists from New Zealand’s government advisory service GeoNet warned it is ‘very likely’ that the North Island’s East Cape will suffer a swarm of strong aftershocks over the next month.
‘This includes the potential for earthquakes in the M7.0-M7.9 range (more than 80 per cent probability within the next 30 days),’ GeoNet’s website warned on Friday.
The urgent warning comes after a series of strong temblors rocked the North Island on Friday.
A swarm of aftershocks up to 5.6 magnitude have been striking about 174km northeast of Gisborne, NZ, as of Friday night (pictured: the US Geological Service monitor). New Zealand’s northern region is now on high alert for more major earthquakes and tsunamis
New Zealanders scrambled to high ground at Whangerei after they were texted an emergency alert on Friday
Three major earthquakes struck early on Friday morning sending New Zealanders scrambling
An 8.1 magnitude shock – of the largest to hit the South Pacific in modern times – struck the Kermadec Islands 800km northeast of New Zealand early on Friday morning, sending panicked North Islanders scurrying for higher ground in fear of a tsunami.
NEW ZEALAND AFTERSHOCK SCENARIOS
NZ Government advisory service GeoNet says aftershocks will hit the northeast of NZ and the central Kermadec Islands over the next 30 days. The likely scenarios are:
Magnitude 7.0 to 7.9: Up to 90% probable
A quake of this size is strong, destructive and may cause tsunamis
Magnitude 8.0: Up to 15 per cent probability but more likely to strike the Kermadecs than near the East Cape of NZ
A magnitude 8.0 earthquake is a major event that can destroy a community if it strikes close and shallow
The 2011 Christchurch earthquake that killed 185 people was a magnitude 6.3 that struck 6.7km southeast of the city at a depth of 6km
A catastrophic magnitude 8.5 or higher: tiny 1% chance
Source: GeoNet website
It was the third and largest shock in a series of three, following a 7.4 in the same region and a 7.2 that hit 174km northeast of Gisborne, NZ, at a depth of 20.8km.
Scores of aftershocks ranging from 5.0 to 6.2 on the Richter scale have since struck the Kermadecs as of Friday night, according to the US Geological Service which monitors earthquakes worldwide.
Another flurry of more than 10 aftershocks ranging from magnitude 4.4 to 5.6 have struck the East Cape region northeast of Gisborne.
GeoNet reminded New Zealanders to drop, cover and hold during the shaking when a major earthquake strikes.
‘As soon as the shaking stops, move immediately to the nearest high ground, out of all tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as possible,’ the website says.
GeoNet worked out the likelihood of three scenarios in the wake of the major quake.
‘We recognise these events are dramatic and unsettling for many people,’ GeoNet said.
‘While we do not know for certain what will happen next … we do have some statistical models that help us know what could happen next.
GeoNet’s forecast models gave a 90 per cent likelihood that a swarm of aftershocks will hit New Zealand’s northeast and the central Kermadecs in the next few days, decreasing in frequency over the next 30 days.
That includes an 80 per cent likelihood of a strong and damaging earthquake of magnitude 7.0 to 7.9, although this is more likely to hit near the central Kermadecs, GeoNet said.
The agency gave a smaller chance – 15 per cent – of a destructive 8.0 quake striking the central Kermadecs and a smaller possibility this could hit the East Cape region.
A magnitude 8.0 earthquake is a major event that can destroy a community if it strikes close and shallow.
The 2011 Christchurch earthquake that killed 185 people was a magnitude 6.3 that struck 6.7km southeast of the city at a depth of 6km.
The US Geological Service showed more than 20 aftershocks have hit the Kermadec Islands, most between magnitude 5.0 to 6.2 since Friday morning’s major 8.1 earthquake. Most are striking at a shallow depth of 10km
The map shared by NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern showing how many people had reported the quake in New Zealand, with more reports in darker-brown areas
Residents chose to flee Whangerei by foot with some locals seen taking their pets with them after three large earthquakes hit on Friday morning
There is a tiny but frightening 1 per cent chance of a catastrophic earthquake of magnitude 8.5 or greater being triggered within the next 30 days by the recent seismic activity, GeoNet said.
‘Although it is still extremely unlikely, the chances of this occurring have increased since the M8.1 earthquake,’ the agency said.
Authorities said earlier on Friday that the tsunami threat has passed after terrified residents earlier fled their homes for higher ground to escape surging seawater.
Panicked locals watched from the safety of higher ground as a wall of water rolled into the coast at Tokomaru Bay on Friday morning.
Authorities had earlier issued a tsunami warning and told residents to evacuate their homes after three other earthquakes were recorded off the coast.
A 7.3-magnitude quake was recorded at 2.27am east of the North Island, before another 7.4-magnitude tremor was recorded near the Kermadec Islands four hours later.
Photos captured drivers queuing in traffic as they try to leave the town of Whangerei
Norfolk Island was hit by two-foot tsunami, threat has now passed
Norfolk Island has been hit by small tsunami waves caused by nearby earthquakes but is not under any threat.
The administrator of the external Australian territory, about 1400 kilometres off the east coast, says there has been no damage to the island.
A 7.9 magnitude earthquake on Friday morning struck near the Kermadec Islands region to New Zealand’s northeast, prompting thousands of Kiwis on the North Island’s east coast to evacuate to higher ground.
It was one of several earthquakes to hit near the Kermadecs early on Friday.
The potential impact for Norfolk Island – to the west of the Kermadecs – began about 9am (AEDT) and was expected to last for several hours.
The Bureau of Meteorology warned of the possibility of dangerous rips, waves and strong ocean currents around the island, as well as ‘some localised overflow into the immediate foreshore’.
Norfolk Island (pictured) was hit by a two-foot tsunami on Friday
A 64cm tsunami wave hit the island, but Norfolk Island Administrator Eric Hutchinson said there was no damage reported.
He said the island’s 2000 residents had heeded the warnings of authorities, aided by text alerts through a newly-installed 4G network.
Police had earlier warned residents not to stand on the coast to watch the tsunami, and boats around the island were told to return to shore.
‘Based on the advice we had earlier received … we should be nearly past that threat,’ Mr Hutchinson, a former Tasmanian federal MP, told AAP earlier on Friday.
‘I’m pleased with the way things have worked here.’
The weather bureau said in a statement that the bay next to the island’s pier was on Friday observed to twice ‘fill up’ to a water level of up to 60cm.
But marine conditions around the island eased over the course of Friday and the tsunami marine warning was cancelled on Friday afternoon.
There was never a tsunami threat to the Australian mainland.
Residents on NZ’s east coast said they noticed water receding from the shoreline, which is the first indication of a tsunami before water comes back (pictured, a cyclist overlooks the surf at Orewa, north of Auckland)
The BOM said in a statement that unusual wave activity, currents and tides may still affect some Norfolk Island beaches for some time.
‘Tsunami waves are more powerful than beach waves of the same size. It is the power rather than the height that makes tsunami waves so destructive, hence dangerous to swimmers and boaters,’ the bureau said.
In New Zealand, workers, students and residents in areas like Northland and Bay of Plenty were being assisted by civil defence officials after authorities warned tsunami waves could reach three metres above tide levels.
Coastal areas under threat extended from the Bay of Islands to Whangarei and from Matata to Tolaga Bay, as well as Great Barrier Island.
Kiwis have since returned to their homes, with the threat passed.
Elsewhere, tsunami waves penetrated almost 30 metres inland at New Caledonia’s Isle of Pines, while small tsunamis were recorded in Vanuatu, Fiji, the Cook Islands and Tonga.
In NSW, Tweed Heads to the state’s north recorded a 10cm tsunami wave, while a 9cm tsunami wave was recorded at Illawarra’s Port Kembla.
An 8.1 magnitude earthquake was then recorded at 8.28am before a fourth aftershock at 6.5 in magnitude was recorded at 12.12pm local time.
The tsunami threat was downgraded about 2pm and those who had evacuated were told they could return to their homes.
Tsunami warnings were issued to several islands across the Pacific including Hawaii, which is more than 7,500 kilometres away, while two-foot waves were reported at Australia’s Norfolk Island.
No damage has been reported at the island though marine authorities have warned of ‘dangerous rips, waves and strong ocean currents’.
Wellington, which is the capital of New Zealand, was also placed on tsunami watch and ferries were delayed.
New Zealand locals were photographed queueing in traffic and walking to higher ground as homes were evacuated from the Bay of Islands to Whangarei, from Matata to Tolaga Bay and Wakatane, Opotiki and Great Barrier Island.
An 8.1 magnitude earthquake was then recorded in the same area leading authorities to issue a tsunami warning to the east coast
Locals described waking up in the early hours of the morning to a ‘very long, swaying shake’ and houses making ‘cracking sounds’.
Whakatane Coastguard’s Craig said his entire town was evacuating following the emergency warning.
‘I’m leaving right now. The whole town is evacuating. We are sensible down here,’ he said.
Drivers were seen queuing in traffic and residents fleeing on foot as they tried to leave the town of Whangerei.
Ruakākā resident Rhys Owen drove up the main road to a friend’s house and said it took 35 minutes, instead of the usual five.
Whananaki school principal Shaun Tepania, who evacuated staff and students to higher ground, described it as a ‘surreal experience’.
A Tokomaru Bay shop owner, on the North Island, shares a photo of groceries lying on the floor after they were flung from the shelves following three earthquakes on Friday
‘We’re sitting up overlooking the estuary,’ he said. ‘It all seems okay for the time being, but the tide is going out when it is supposed to be coming in, which we have all been discussing.’
Ōhope resident Emma Tucker said drivers were staying calm and remaining positive.
‘All the cars are in the evacuation point,’ she said. ‘Cars are getting to safely pretty quickly. Lucky there is plenty of space on Ōhope hill.’
Waves as high as three metres are expected to hit the Kermadecs and one metre high waves are likely to batter parts of the North Island.
It marks the second time the region has faced a disaster in as many years after a volcano erupted on White Island, located 48 kilometres off the coast, killing 21 people and injuring 24 others in 2019.
A firetruck drives through Pago Pago in America Samoa urging residents to get to higher ground
The latest earthquake was so strong a tsunami warning has also been issued for Hawaii, which is almost 7,500 kilometres away from New Zealand.
Minister for Emergency Management Kiri Allan described it as a ‘dynamic event that is constantly evolving’.
‘People have done the right thing in the regions by picking up, packing up, and by and large staying calm,’ she said.
Locals have described waking up in the early hours of the morning to a ‘very long, swaying shake’ and houses making ‘cracking sounds’ (pictured, residents on high ground at Whangarei)
‘I want to acknowledge the anxiety for many families and for many people… Now, as we pivot towards the current environment that we’re in, we’re asking those that have moved to high ground or inland to remain where you are.’
Warnings were also issued for other Pacific islands like Tonga, American Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and others.
Australia issued a marine tsunami threat for Norfolk Island but said there was no threat to the mainland.
Residents walk to higher ground after a tsunami warning was issued at Papamoa Beach
‘People are strongly advised by Norfolk Island police in all threatened areas to get out of the water and move away from the immediate water’s edge of beaches, marinas, harbours, coastal estuaries and rock platforms,’ the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre said.
‘Boats in harbours, estuaries or shallow coastal water should return to shore.
New Zealand residents were sent an emergency alert on their phones, urging them to leave their homes immediately.
‘People in coastal areas must leave immediately out of all evacuation zones and move to high ground or as far inland as possible,’ the message reads.
An emergency alert was texted to residents following an 8.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of New Zealand
‘Do not stay at home. Walk, run or cycle if you can. Take only essential items (and pets) with you and share this information if it does not delay you.’
The first quake was also much more dramatic for residents on the North Island, who described a ‘very long, swaying shake’ and houses making ‘cracking sounds’ in a tremor which some thought had lasted for as long as a minute.
‘Okay, like literally the entire country felt that,’ one shocked resident said on social media. ‘That is terrifying.’
Drivers attempt to get to higher ground at Whangarei following three earthquakes off the North Island coast on Friday morning
A terrified resident caught on camera her home shaking as the east coast was rattled by the earthquake.
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern took to Instagram following the earthquake.
‘Hope everyone is ok out there – especially on the east coast who would have felt the full force of that earthquake,’ Ms Jacinda Ardern said.
More than 60,000 people reported feeling the quake on seismic monitor GeoNet, with a few hundred describing the shaking as ‘severe’ and 75 calling it ‘extreme’.
Papamoa Beach residents wait on the top of a hill after authorities issued a tsunami alert