New Zealand downgrades tsunami warning after earthquakes | News | DW | 05.03.2021

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New Zealand downgrades tsunami warning after earthquakes

Authorities say thousands of residents who had been evacuated should now return home. The largest waves have now passed after one of the strongest quakes in the South Pacific in recent years.

A man looks out onto a beach following a tsunami warning in Orewa, north of Auckland

Authorities say the largest waves had now passed and the threat level could be lowered

New Zealand downgraded its tsunami threat level on Friday, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said.

A series of strong earthquakes struck off the coast of the North Island the day before, prompting the evacuation of thousands of residents.

But authorities are now allowing them to return home.

What is the situation now?

The largest waves have now passed and the threat level has been lowered, the agency said.

"All people who evacuated can now return. The advice remains to stay off beach and shore areas," said NEMA.

However, strong currents and unpredictable surges still present a drowning threat. 

"There is a danger to swimmers, surfers, people fishing, small boats and anyone in or near the water close to shore."

Some surge activity had been seen in "multiple locations" along the Northland coast, the authority said in an emergency alert sent to Northland residents.

New Zealand beach deserted after tsunami warning

A beach in Orewa, north of Auckland is deserted following a tsunami warning on March 5, 2021

How strong were the earthquakes?

A series of at least three powerful earthquakes triggered the evacuations

An 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck about 8:30 am (1930 GMT Thursday) some 800 kilometers (500 miles) off the north-east coast of New Zealand's North Island.

This followed a 7.4-magnitude quake in the same area, and a 7.1-magnitude quake that struck off the east coast of in the early hours of Friday.

At that time, NEMA urged residents in parts of the east coast of the North Island to evacuate due to the risk of a tsunami.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or significant damage from any of the quakes.

New Zealand sign warns of tsunamis and closed roads

A road warning sign at Waipara, New Zealand following a series of earthquakes triggered a tsunami warning

Is the region still in danger?

Emergency Management Minister Kiri Allan said it had been an "extraordinary morning" for New Zealanders, most of whom felt at least the earliest earthquake.

"This has been a dynamic event that is constantly evolving," Allan told a media conference.

In February, New Zealand marked 10 years since a major Christchurch earthquake that left 185 people dead.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also warned hazardous tsunami waves were possible across large parts of the Pacific, including the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu. 

mb/rt (Reuters, dpa)