Editorial: Wellington earthquake report sobering

Last updated 05:00 15/11/2012
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OPINION: Three months without power to homes, 75 days without safe water supplies and weeks cut off from the rest of the country by road.

The length of time it will take to fully restore crucial services to some parts of greater Wellington in the event of a major earthquake are, as regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde notes, indeed sobering.

Wellingtonians have always lived with the knowledge that the bottom of the North Island could be devastated by a major seismic event at any time, but the Christchurch earthquake brought a tragic reminder of the death and destruction that would be unleashed and the importance of being prepared. Now, a report from the Wellington Lifelines Group, made up of utility operators and civil defence authorities from central and local government, has painted a grim picture of just how serious the damage would be in a major tremor.

The group has found that if the region was struck by an earthquake that measured 7.5 on the Richter scale, it would take between 20 and 30 days to restore basic power supplies to most areas and 50 days for Wellington's CBD. Even then, only a "survival level" of service would be available, with power restricted to facilities critical to saving lives. Homes would remain in the dark for 40 to 95 days and gas supplies would take 60 to 80 days to be restored, subject to regular outages for ongoing repairs.

Water supplies that did not need to be boiled – extremely difficult without power or gas – would take between 25 and 75 days to restore, and the expected landslides along the major roads into the capital would take up to four months to clear. During that time, much of the region will need to be supplied with the essentials of life by barge or helicopter.

The report underlines the need for an additional northern roadway. It finds that Transmission Gully, once built, could reduce the amount of time Wellington is cut off from 120 days to 40, making a huge difference to the speed with which key recovery and reconstruction work could begin.

The group has stressed that its predictions are based on a worst-case scenario. It notes that the Wellington fault ruptures on average every 840 years, with the last major event occurring 300 years ago, and that there is a 10 per cent chance of a major quake in the next 100 years. However, the group is right to plan for the worst. It means being prepared for anything.

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Households also need to be ready for the big one. Many parts of the region will be cut off and left to their own devices for days in the event of a major earthquake, and every home should have a disaster kit containing the basic necessities of life. That means a minimum of three litres of water per person, per day, for at least three days, tinned food, a torch, a radio, toiletries, first aid equipment and other essentials.

There is nothing that can be done to prevent earthquakes, and science has yet to find a way to predict them – if that is possible at all. The best that can be done in a nation like New Zealand, which is criss-crossed with faults and prone to sudden, violent events like that which left Christchurch in ruins, is to be prepared

- The Dominion Post

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