The Civil Defence evacuation order applies to: “The east coast of the North Island from the Bay of Islands to Whangarei, from Matata to Tolage Bay including Whakatane and Opotiki, and Great Barrier Island.” People living in these areas are ordered to “move immediately” to high ground or as far inland as they can go.
The initial earthquake was followed by a 7.8 magnitude aftershock.
The instruction to evacuate comes from New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
They said: “The earthquake may not have been felt in some of these areas, but evacuation should be immediate as a damaging tsunami is possible.
“People in all other areas who felt a long or strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand up, or lasted longer than a minute, should move immediately to the nearest high ground, out of all tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as possible.
“Evacuation advice overrides the current COVID-19 Alert Level requirements.
Listen to local Civil Defence authorities and follow any instructions regarding evacuation of your area.
“If you are told to evacuate do not stay at home. Stay 2 metres away from others if you can and if it is safe to do so.”
The US Tsunami Warning Service records the earthquake as having hit at 7.28pm GMT (8.30am local time) at a depth of approximately six miles.
“People know where to go. They either head towards Gisborne or they come up to Hospital Hill.
“It’s about making sure all the people get the message and move on out.”
The NEMA is urging all New Zealand residents who live in coastal areas to stay away from the water and listen to the radio or TV for updates.
This advice is in place until an all-clear message is sent out by New Zealand’s Civil Defence.
They warn: “The first wave may not be the largest.
“Tsunami activity will continue for several hours and the threat is real until this warning is cancelled.
“People who are near the coast in the areas under threat listed above or near the coast and felt the earthquake long or strong, should move now.
“Do now wait for an Emergency Mobile Alert to your mobile phone.
“Move to the nearest high ground, out of tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as possible.
“The National Emergency Management Agency and GNS Science will continue to assess the threat and will provide an update for all areas as soon as possible.”