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Tsunami: When minutes count

New Zealanders who experienced the Samoa tsunami in 2009 share their survival stories

Tsunami: When Minutes Count coverOn 29 September 2009 a deadly tsunami hit the South Pacific, claiming over 180 lives in Samoa, Tonga and American Samoa. The tsunami was triggered by an 8.3 magnitude earthquake at 06:48, just south of Samoa, and arrived within minutes. There was no time for an official warning. Many lives were saved because people recognised the natural warning signs of a tsunami and were able to get away quickly to a safe area.

In these video clips, New Zealanders who survived the tsunami share their experiences in the hope that it will help others have a better understanding of what happens during a tsunami, and how acting quickly can save lives.

All of the video clips can be viewed on YouTube. Copies of the dvd are also available on request, email emergency.managment@dpmc.govt.nz


Tsunami - When Minutes Count: Part 1


Tsunami - When Minutes Count: Part 2


Sally and Mike Adye

Sally and Mike Adye from Hawke’s Bay anticipated that something could happen following the earthquake. They waited and watched, like many others on the beach. When they saw the changes in the sea they desperately scrambled up the cliff to safety.


Carolyn and Maurice Brown

Carolyn and Maurice Brown from Blenheim had arrived at the beach in Lalomanu the night before and had not yet got their bearings. When they noticed the tsunami warning signs they made a near fatal decision to get in their rental car and drive away. Their vehicle was caught in the tsunami and quickly filled with water trapping them inside.


Zana and Mike Whittaker-Scott

Zana and Mike Whittaker-Scott from Auckland were on their honeymoon in Lalomanu when the tsunami hit. Reluctant to cause panic they waited when they felt the earthquake. They describe their harrowing experience as they scrambled to warn others and head up a cliff.


Sarah Davidson and Amy Graham

Sarah Davidson and Amy Graham, flatmates from Auckland, contemplated going back to bed after the early morning quake. They heard the screams of others on the beach and were lucky to get up the cliff as the first waves hit.


The Bullock family

The Bullock Family from Auckland was on holiday in Lalomanu. Dad, Richard, kept a watch following the quake and noticed the changes in the sea. He wasted no time in getting his family out of bed and up the hill, warning others on the beach as they headed for safety.


The Manson family

The Manson family from Auckland were on holiday in Lalomanu. Without any sirens or warnings being sounded they did not expect a tsunami to follow. "They are bigger than they look, and faster than you think”, says Tabitha Manson.


The Wutzler family

The Wutzler family from Wellington were on the beach when the earthquake hit. Abby Wutzler had learned about tsunami at school and knew the natural warning signs to look out for. She ran to warn her family, alerting many others on the beach.


Graham Leonard, GNS Science

Graham Leonard, GNS Science explains the tsunami risk for New Zealand and the different types of tsunami we may encounter. He also explains what happens during a tsunami and what we can do to keep safe.


John Hamilton, Director Civil Defence and Emergency Management

John Hamilton, Director Civil Defence and Emergency Managementanswers the questions:How will New Zealanders be warned of a tsunami? What is the civil defence advice for people in the event of a local tsunami when there is no time to issue an official warning? Knowing what to do before an event occurs can save lives.

Know the natural warning signs

If you are at the coast and experience any of the following:

  • Feel a strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand up, or a weak rolling earthquake that lasts a minute or more,
  • See a sudden rise or fall in sea level,
  • Hear loud and unusual noises from the sea,

Move immediately to the nearest high ground, or as far inland as you can.