Editorial: Some scary numbers

22:44, May 28 2014

There is a classic Blackadder skit where Prince Edmund is in flight from the enemy.

Flapping his arms he yells: "Run for the hills." Baldrick, calm and measured, replies: "No, my lord. They're coming from the hills," to which Edmund replies: "Run away from the hills. Run away from the hills. If you see the hills, run the other way."

The skit comes to mind when reading today's front page story that there is a 65 per cent chance of the Alpine Fault rupturing in the next 50 years.

Not quite flapping my arms yet but both of those numbers are a little scary.

Sixty-five per cent is better than even and 50 years is, well, quite possibly in my lifetime.

And scary too because of the Christchurch earthquakes, which teach us that such disasters can happen, and will again, and that we ignore them at our peril.


When I think about the Alpine Fault rupturing, the image is of rushing water swallowing all before it as dams burst and riverbanks are topped, and then it would not matter which way you were running.

That is perhaps the consequence of watching too many movies, because the reality is that might be only one consequence of a significant quake.

Falling buildings might actually claim more lives.

Earthquakes scare us also because no matter what you do you cannot be fully prepared.

We can look for warning signs and agree on escape plans, but such is the nature of earthquakes that holding on and hoping for the best can be the best strategy at the time. Flooding in general is considered a higher risk than earthquakes but is not nearly as frightening.

Generally you know it is coming and have time to get out of the way.

The report though is a worthwhile reminder of our particular risks, even if for comfort we would rather turn the figures around and think there is a 35 per cent chance the Alpine Fault will not rupture in the next 50 years.

That, though, would be akin to Prince Edmund rolling himself into a ball and pulling his cape over himself.

Instead, it would not hurt for communities to identify just what might happen and how they might deal with it when, not if, it happens.

The Timaru Herald