Papamoa: Wave of fear over no warning

By Julia Proverbs


Kirsty and Neil Thomas dreamed of a life at the beach.

So they moved to New Zealand from the UK and bought a house at Papamoa.

But several years later, they have sold up because of Mrs Thomas' crippling fear of a tsunami.

Now they live at Pyes Pa, with their two children, Tilly, 6, and Oliver, 4, and couldn't be happier.

Mrs Thomas' fear is understandable when you consider what she has been through.

The couple were in Bali, en route to New Zealand, at the time of the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 that claimed 230 lives.

While they were not caught in it, they witnessed debris wash up on the beach and the growing number of posters of loved ones lost.

Then, two years ago, when Mrs Thomas visited Christchurch for her studies, the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that killed 185 people struck.

Mrs Thomas found it increasingly hard to sleep after returning to Papamoa.

``Every time the wind changed and the waves changed I couldn't sleep. In the end, I was having dreams about the kids in pre-school in Papamoa and me working in town and something happening and me not being able to get there. It was too much,'' she said.

When a magnitude 9.0 earthquake sent a wall of water into Japan, killing 19,000 people, it forced her decision.

``When Japan came I did some reading. There are four countries with the highest risk and we're one of them and the other three have already been hit,'' she said.

They moved into their new home just before Christmas and Mrs Thomas ``slept like a log''.

``I was finally at peace,'' she said.

For those who continue to live in the flat, far reaching coastal suburb, the risk of a tsunami is something they choose to live with.

But many want the security of an alarm system to warn them of impending danger.

While there have been three different tests carried out with various equipment, there is only one existing siren in Papamoa, at the fire station, and no alarm system in place

The Bay of Plenty Times broke the story on Friday that the council would look at air raid sirens because the electronic system it had favoured until now would be too costly.

Air raid sirens are the system preferred by the Papamoa Progressive Association, which tested them in October.

Chairman Steve Morris said residents wanted something simple and cost effective.

``We just keep banging our heads against a brick wall. Just get on with it. Just listen to the people,'' he said.

Papamoa residents who spoke to the Bay of Plenty Times said it was ``a bit of a joke'' and that they had ``given up''.

Geoff Trappitt, 39, moved to Papamoa with his wife Anita and three children two years ago, following the Christchurch earthquake.

An effective tsunami warning system was essential for the safety of his children Hailey, 12, Sophie, 8, and Ashlee, 2, he said.

``The tsunami warning system is absolutely pathetic. By the time they get round to it we will have probably had that experience. Everything seems to get caught up in council and nothing ever happens.''

Mr Trappitt said he had lived in the United States where there were sirens to warn of severe weather, particularly tornadoes.

They were tested every two weeks and everyone was able to hear and recognise the warning easily.

``There's a problem and they [the council] need to fix it. It doesn't take a year to sort something like that out, especially when other countries are doing it,'' he said.

``Even if it was overkill with two many sirens that's worth more than a life lost in an event.''

Greg Malony, 40, said there needed to be better access out and people needed to be better informed.

``The biggest concern is not enough information being handed out about it. Lack of communication from council is a big thing,'' he said.

Helen Hunt, 59, asked: ``Where do you go?''

The roads would be gridlocked with everyone heading for the Papamoa Hills, she said.

``It would be diabolical. They should put something in place pretty smartly instead of waiting for something dire to happen.''

Nicole Mitchell, 42, thought the lack of an effective tsunami warning system was ``hopeless''.

``You don't feel safe.''

Others, however, were more pragmatic.

``I am worried but then again we risk living here don't we? Not everyone is going to get out,'' said Leanne Noonan, 46.

Sam Malcom, 34, went fishing following the last tsunami warning.

``It's natural. It's a disaster. A lot of people are scaremongers,'' he said.

Another resident said she would open a bottle of wine and wait for it to come.

``I just hope it comes and goes,'' she said.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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