Editorial: Quake jitters continue

Chairman Warren Larsen inspects damage to Wellington's CentrePort caused by the weekend's 6.5 earthquake.
Chairman Warren Larsen inspects damage to Wellington's CentrePort caused by the weekend's 6.5 earthquake.

It's one of the rules in horror films: you don't heave a sigh of relief after a scare.

No, no. Bad idea. Because as soon as that sound emerges, typically something much worse leaps up at you.

New Zealand's recent earthquake history serves as a huge discouragement for saying "whew". And the reasons are not cinematic. They're seismic.

Wellington has just had a horrid scare; a series of quakes inflicting far from trivial damage, but still essentially more frightening than anything else.

After the events, there isn't a whole lot of relaxing going on.

The initial surge of adrenalin may have subsided but the city, and for that matter central New Zealand, are still collectively a community under stress. Both social and physical.

GNS Science warns that quakes are likely to continue for nobody really knows how long. And that some could be as large, even larger, than those already felt.

This is fair warning of an implacable reality. We live in a land of recurrent earthquakes.

Even in this context, Wellington has long been tipped as the city most vulnerable, yet as we all know the greatest nightmare of recent decades was inflicted on Christchurch two years ago.

The authorities have been highlighting the difference between this and the killer Christchurch quake. The worst on Sunday was bigger but less violent where it mattered. Mercifully it was both deeper - 17km depth compared to 5km - and further removed from the nearest city, being centred 50km away from Wellington, rather than 10km in Christchurch's case.

Nevertheless it's a sobering realisation that had Wellington's quake been centred under the city, GNS Science seismologist Stephen Bannister says the damage would be the equal of Christchurch's, or close to it.

Few will have forgotten, either, before that deadly February 2011 quake, Christchurch had been counting its blessings after surviving a September 2010 monster with just a couple of serious injuries and one heart attack fatality. A few months later Canterbury was coping with a heartbreaking death toll of 185.

The infrastructural damage from the weekend, for the most part anyway, was limited enough that Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says the damage appears to be superficial. That's good, although until engineering reports are complete it's more the scrutiny that's superficial.

There is an upside to all this.

If, as individuals or collectively, our thinking has grown lax in the past two years, here is a vivid reminder to restore a sense of vigilance and preparation.

Time to sort out our survival kits and make sure they are up to date. To develop an emergency plan - something basic enough that all family members know what they, and others, will do, or at least try to do, after a quake.

The Southland Times