We were warned about quake risk

WILL HARVIE
Last updated 10:30 21/02/2013

Before September 2010 Cantabrians got many warnings that a major earthquake was due, hundreds would likely die, liquefaction would be widespread, rock would fall from the Port Hills, and burst pipelines would mean that clean water was scarce and sewage a problem.

And those warning are just the ones found in an easily accessible part of The Press archive, from the years after 2000. There were many other opportunities for Cantabrians to grapple with quake risk, including an education campaign fronted by Peter Elliott. 

In hindsight, what's remarkable about these warnings is their accuracy.

''Experts say it is only a matter of time before Christchurch is rocked by a major quake that will leave hundreds dead, thousands injured and reduce parts of the city to rubble,'' stated a October 2005 Press story.

''Critical infrastructure, such as water, sewerage, fuel and gas pipelines, electricity and telecommunications cables, roads, bridges and hospitals, would sustain serious damage,'' it continued.

Under the headline ''Massive South Island earthquake overdue'', The Press reported in October 2004 that Canterbury ''would experience soil liquefaction from the shaking, with buildings and other structures collapsing.''

In January 2005, Christchurch City councillor Sue Wells predicted, "We cannot imagine how bad [it] will be. People will be using buckets and plastic bags for weeks.''

"The water supply is pumped from wells that won't work. Getting water from rivers will be a problem because there will probably be sewage in them," she told The Press.

In September 2005, The Press reported, ''Rockfalls and landslips will probably block roads over the Port Hills.'' That story also predicted, ''Many single-storey and more modern high-rise buildings are likely to remain intact, but will settle at an angle or even sink into the ground.''

Just a few weeks before the September quake that started it all, The Press reported: ''A key [Christchurch City council] panel recommendation was that all unreinforced masonry buildings be strengthened by 2032 - 10 years earlier than existing rules in some cases''.

Earlier in the year, council was considering a $2 million seismic-strengthening grants scheme for heritage buildings that might be introduced from 2012.

These warnings typically predicted the Alpine Fault would rupture rather than the unknown faults that actually moved, but the effect on the city was in line with predictions.

Not all of the Press reporting was robust. A 2003 story claimed that ''most earthquakes strike at night''.

That clanger aside, Canterbury residents were well - and accurately - warned. ''Apathy is the No. 1 enemy that we've got,'' said Regional Civil Defence officer Wayne Rissman in 2005.

Like most Cantabrians, I didn't pay much attention to these warnings. But our officials should have.

So why did Mayor Bob Parker write this in his 2012 quake memoir Ripped Apart: ''Everyone agreed that Wellington, which is on a major fault line, could suffer catastrophes such as the earthquake which struck us; but not Christchurch''?

- (Live Matches)

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