Hard News by Russell Brown


Ready for the Big One?

I was already thinking about Chile's earthquake recovery effort – and wondering how we'd do if and when the earth smote New Zealand – when Statistics NZ dropped some relevant data from the General Social Survey.

In short: most New Zealand households have food for three days, fewer than half have a three-day supply of water, and only a quarter have a household emergency plan.

Looks around and does a quick household check …

Food? Sure. Days' worth. We could even eat those canned fava beans at a pinch. And we have gas bottles for cooking.

Water? Do the contents of the hot water cylinder count?

Batteries, torch, transistor radio? Check. Although sod's law says you'll always have the wrong sized batteries.

Emergency plan? Beyond musing about the ethics of when it's okay to start looting the local service station, well, no …

It certainly seems to be the case that those of us who live in Auckland or Wellington – built on a volcanic field and a geological fault line respectively – have a particular incentive to be prepared for Nature's Worst.

There is, of course the GetThru website to help us better prepare for the day. (I can't help thinking: they're running it on Lotus Notes! Is that wise?). And according to Stats, Aucklanders need more help than their cousins in the Capital.

It figures. The only person I know who systematically stores water lives on the hill in Melrose. They'll be lucky if their house doesn't scoot down the hill – the plumbing's surely going to be the first casualty of the Big one.

In Auckland, though, hazards have become tourist attractions, and it's hard not to think that the next one that pops up from the field will be too. Sure, it'll be a bugger for local property values, but think of the fireworks!

Sadly the New Zealand Hazardscape says different. In the earthquakes and volcanoes section, under the heading 'Auckland's Next Volcano', we find:

There are 530􏰀000 people living on the Auckland Volcanic Field and a further 750􏰀000 live in the wider Auckland region. Even a small, localised eruption would cause major damage near the vent and widespread disruption.

Planning for an Auckland Volcanic Field eruption assumes that buildings and infrastructure within 3km of the new vent would be destroyed by an initial surge of hot gas, steam and rocks. Ash would fall over most of the greater Auckland area, up to 10cm thick near the vent. Ash and acid rain would pollute water supplies and most likely damage stormwater and sewerage infrastructure. Auckland International Airport would be closed for weeks. Insured losses could be in the order of $1—2 billion, and indirect costs could be much more.

Managing an Auckland Volcanic Field eruption presents significant challenges. Mass evacuation, for an unknown length of time, would be essential. Even though the field is monitored to detect magma movement within the earth’s crust, the location of the next vent, and hence the area to be evacuated, may not be known until eruption is imminent.

Shitballs. That does sound serious. It could be weeks between visits to La Cigale.

And then, of course, we have Taupo and its less exalted cousin, Okataina – the two most active caldera volcanoes in the world. Taupo's last fling, in 180AD, is the most powerful volcanic eruption of the last 5000 years. When that puppy blows, it's goodnight nurse, a metre of ash in Auckland and don't bother coming home from your OE, ever.

Well, perhaps. That would really be the big one, and the prevailing wind would hopefully take the deposits (up to 50 cubic km of them) away from the larger population centres. Sorry, Gisborne. MAF's excellent Impact of a Volcanic Eruption on Agriculture and Forestry in New Zealand shows that the deposits from the 180AD eruption wrought "total devastation" over a huge area from Taupo to the East Coast.

Then there's the Hazardscape's tsunami section. We do seem to have been fortunate here.

The tsunami that struck our East Coast in 1960 seems to superficially resemble last week's alert, in that it was triggered by a huge (9.5) quake in Chile. Thousands died in Chile, 60 in Hawaii and 199 in Japan. We lost 200 sheep.

Even in 1947 – when a wall of water 10 metres high hit the Gisborne coast and shunted the Pouawa River bridge 800 metres inland – there were no fatalities (it would have been far worse had it struck during the summer holidays).

There will be readers of this site who were alive for both those wave events. It's not hard to see why Civil Defence gets antsy about people going down to the beach for a gander.

Overall, our isolation gives us some shelter from certain other hazards described in the report, but our place on the Ring of Fire makes us subject to the full might of the earth itself. I assume I'm not alone in quietly finding that a little bit thrilling.


I'm enjoying the results of MusicHype's remix and cover version contests --- the source material in both cases being the Mint Chicks' 'Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!' – that I don't want to carp too much about the somewhat confusing and circular way the tracks are presented.

But just a wee bit: I really liked The Enright House remix. It's not in the Top 10 charts, and hasn't come up randomly in the bunches of five entries. How can I find it? And I'd love to have an easy way of linking to individual tracks.

Anyway, you'll need to sign up with MusicHype to get access to the tracks (which are fully downloadable via SoundCloud once you do), audition and rank them. It's worth your time and it's a great idea, but it could be better realised.

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