Early Friday, a mighty 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck the Kermadec Islands region of New Zealand. The quake was so violent that the country set a tsunami warning for the surrounding areas out of caution, as large quakes like the one Friday morning often spawn huge tsunami waves.
The 8.1 quake was actually the third to strike the region Friday morning, as a series of quakes shook the islands. Residents received alarming weather alerts on their phones encouraging them to evacuate immediately ahead of potential tsunamis. “Do not stay at home,” the phone alerts read, noting “damaging tsunami is possible.”
The Kermadec Islands are over 500 miles northeast of New Zealand’s North Island, making them somewhat remote in the South Pacific. The tsunami warning included the Kermadec Islands, as well as the east coast of the North Island and Great Barrier Island.
As morning became afternoon in the region, the tsunami threat was downgraded from a “land and marine threat” to a “marine and beach threat,” allowing those who had evacuated to return safely to their homes. However, for the next several hours, people in the region are encouraged to stay away from beaches, as unusually strong currents and unpredictable ocean surges can still be possible after earthquakes.
Both Hawaii and American Samoa received tsunami warnings immediately following the quakes. However, it was determined later Friday that those islands were at no risk for tsunamis, and the warnings were canceled.
Seismologist Bill Fry noted that the earthquake was highly unusual, given that it struck “without any significant warning”. Fry, who has studied seismological activity in New Zealand for 13 years, said this was the first time he’d seen “this particular sequence” in regards to earthquakes.
People in the region told reporters that the sound of the tsunami warning siren is enough to make their blood run cold. The sound of the siren indicates that it’s time to evacuate for more inland regions immediately. For people who live near the coast, a tsunami can be a threat to their property, their livelihoods and even their very lives.
It’s hard to understand just how devastating such a disaster can be unless you’ve lived through something similar. Waking up one day and having to leave your home in a rush because a wave could wipe it off the face of the earth is surreal and unsettling all at once.