Timely reminder of tsunami threat to our vulnerable coast communities

EDITORIAL

Another timely reminder and a near miss, the earthquake in the early hours of yesterday morning has had a strong effect on the whole district especially the coastal townships. But there is a positive side in the way that residents in the most threatened areas reacted calmly but quickly to the threat of tsunami.

Confirmation from GNS scientist John Ristau that the 7.1 magnitude earthquake was the biggest to hit the area for 20 years will come as no surprise. The most common impression yesterday was how long the rolling motion lasted with estimates of up to 40 seconds.

By this morning about 140 aftershocks had been recorded on the East Coast, keeping people’s nerves jangling. Incredibly, the quake came only two days after a national civil defence exercise based on a tsunami alert.

It must be surprising then to see national Civil Defence criticised for a tardy response to the 4.37am quake. The first quake advisory was not notified until 40 minutes later, and the tsunami threat notice followed at 5.33am with an emergency broadcast request five minutes later.

Gisborne’s civil defence organisation has been focusing for some time on the tsunami threat and the people in the most vulnerable coastal communities, alerted by sirens, knew exactly what to do.

They were joined in a voluntary evacuation by some Wainui residents and also city people, with some making for the traditional refuge of Kaiti Hill.

Probably the only mild criticism heard yesterday was the opinion of some that there should be a siren warning system for Wainui and the Awapuni area.

The local civil defence controller John Clarke has long experience in all sorts of emergencies, going back to Cyclone Bola, and the people around him are equally seasoned.

While a tsunami is hopefully unlikely, the district remains under constant threat from earthquakes. This latest one was stronger than the damaging ones in 1966, 1993 and 2007. Luckily it was centred 100 kilometres or so offshore. Let’s hope our luck continues.

Another timely reminder and a near miss, the earthquake in the early hours of yesterday morning has had a strong effect on the whole district especially the coastal townships. But there is a positive side in the way that residents in the most threatened areas reacted calmly but quickly to the threat of tsunami.

Confirmation from GNS scientist John Ristau that the 7.1 magnitude earthquake was the biggest to hit the area for 20 years will come as no surprise. The most common impression yesterday was how long the rolling motion lasted with estimates of up to 40 seconds.

By this morning about 140 aftershocks had been recorded on the East Coast, keeping people’s nerves jangling. Incredibly, the quake came only two days after a national civil defence exercise based on a tsunami alert.

It must be surprising then to see national Civil Defence criticised for a tardy response to the 4.37am quake. The first quake advisory was not notified until 40 minutes later, and the tsunami threat notice followed at 5.33am with an emergency broadcast request five minutes later.

Gisborne’s civil defence organisation has been focusing for some time on the tsunami threat and the people in the most vulnerable coastal communities, alerted by sirens, knew exactly what to do.

They were joined in a voluntary evacuation by some Wainui residents and also city people, with some making for the traditional refuge of Kaiti Hill.

Probably the only mild criticism heard yesterday was the opinion of some that there should be a siren warning system for Wainui and the Awapuni area.

The local civil defence controller John Clarke has long experience in all sorts of emergencies, going back to Cyclone Bola, and the people around him are equally seasoned.

While a tsunami is hopefully unlikely, the district remains under constant threat from earthquakes. This latest one was stronger than the damaging ones in 1966, 1993 and 2007. Luckily it was centred 100 kilometres or so offshore. Let’s hope our luck continues.

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