Tsunami safe refuge considered for Tauranga

By James Fuller

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Purpose-built safe buildings are being considered as part of Tauranga's overall tsunami plan.

The Kaituna River end of Papamoa is the most likely location for the structures, which are one of a series of measures being considered.

The buildings would be built to withstand tsunamis, could utilise existing natural high points and would be refuges when time was short to reach higher ground such as the Papamoa Hills.

"It's about reducing the travel time to get people to safety," said Tauranga City Council's manager of city development, Paul Baunton.

"This is one option in the mix and we're taking the opportunity to look at all of our options. Indications are it would be expensive but we are not ruling things out before they've been costed."

Other options included arrangements with private business owners for access to suitable buildings.

Mr Baunton said identifying safe evacuation routes was the first priority though. Council was working with environmental and engineering consultancy Tonkin & Taylor to model likely water flow areas, depths and speeds in the event of a tsunami. An idea of safe routes could then be established.

However, a comprehensive tsunami plan could still be years away.

"We're dealing with it logically, sequentially and with the community's best well-being at heart," said Mr Baunton, who warned against knee-jerk solutions.

"The best thing we can do is to take it over the one, two or three-year period it's going to take to put together something which is really coherent, strong and which has public confidence."

Steve Morris, Papamoa Progressive Association chairman, said building new structures would be too expensive.

"Make use of the natural features, enhance those with extra fill and make sure there are clearly designated and marked evacuation routes to them."

Mr Morris said all public buildings such as libraries, service centres, sports facilities and community halls should have the ability to allow roof access in case of emergency.

He said, similarly, commercial premises should be made to allow roof access as part of the building consent process.

In April, a Bay of Plenty Regional Council-commissioned report predicted a tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake along the southern section of the Kermadec Trench could kill up to 900 Papamoa people and cause $54 million of damage to buildings.

Malcolm Poppe, who has lived in Papamoa for seven years, is the Tsunami Survive cluster group facilitator for Palm Beach. He said the issue was simple in his eyes.

"Right from the start people have said they want a decent siren system and direct footpaths up into the hills, all the rest is just bureaucracy."

Mr Poppe believed people were complacent about the tsunami threat.

"It would take something fairly serious like a three to five metre wave to make people sit up and take notice. My fear is if White Island or Mayor Island blows, that's where the danger lies. You've then probably got about 20 minutes to get out."

One Papamoa household that is not complacent is that of Georgina Crawford.

Her husband Marcus Brons and children - aged 10, 12 and 13 - have an evacuation kit that includes a week's worth of food, water, extra clothes, medicines, passports and a little cash.

Mrs Crawford said there had been two tsunami scares in the 10 years since the family moved from Hamilton. They evacuated their home on the first occasion.

"We packed everyone in the car and left."

The warning had come from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii.

"The son of a fellow church member works there and raised the alarm. We then alerted our neighbours.

"Our overseas connections are better than anything local."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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