Blog: why Auckland's quake was news

By Philip Duncan

Computer generated picture for Exercise Ruaumoko - a mock volcanic eruption, March 2008. Photo / NZ Herald
Computer generated picture for Exercise Ruaumoko - a mock volcanic eruption, March 2008. Photo / NZ Herald

Last night's small earthquake in Auckland may have been small on the Richter Scale but it was still something for the history books.

It was similar in force to about five aftershocks that hit Christchurch yesterday but unlike Christchurch, Auckland not only rarely has earthquakes, it rarely feels them from surrounding regions either.

GeoNet said that in suburbs near the epicentre the tremor was felt as a 5 on the modified Mercalli intensity scale, which measures an earthquake's effects on people and their environment, reported the NZ Herald.

It runs to 12; the disastrous February 22 earthquake in Christchurch rated at 9 - "destructive".

So the quake was moderately felt in some suburbs.

But comments to Weatherwatch and on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook seem to have divided people with attacks on Aucklanders and a bit of one-up-manship from people who have felt bigger.

The thing is, feeling an earthquake in Auckland is extremely rare. While every few years a small quake will give the city a brief jolt the majority of Aucklanders never feel a thing.

So to feel an earthquake in Auckland can, in fact, be a once in a lifetime thing.

It's for that reason that it made the headlines.

Similar sized quakes have been known to make the headlines in Australia, England and Canada too - in areas that aren't used to them.

Add on top of that many Aucklanders, who have had huge empathy for those in Canterbury, also feel some of the emotion stemming from Christchurch.

I don't blame people in Christchurch for feeling like this belittles what they are going through. But again, Aucklanders are told time and time again that a volcanic eruption is something they should be prepared for - there was even a movie earlier this year depicting a dramatic volcanic eruption right in the CBD.

The Herald has had a story that surfaces from time to time since February 22 about the 5000 buildings in Auckland at risk from collapse in an strong earthquake.

Rangitoto Island only erupted around 600 years ago - and Maori witnessed it. In historical terms this is a newborn volcano. Many of the comments that I read last night were from people concerned this might have been something related to volcanic activity - the good news is that it wasn't.

So I understand why some who felt it were a little bit freaked out.

This coming from someone who not only lived through the Edgecumbe earthquake but also feared for my life in the September 4 earthquake in Christchurch last year and since then I have visited Christchurch almost every month to report on the city. I am accutely aware of what is serious and what is not. This was not serious by a long shot - but you simply can't dismiss the way some people reacted to feeling it - or the fear of it being linked to volcanic activity...this city has as many as 50 volcanoes dotted across it.

Aucklanders were quick to mock themselves too, with people posting funny comments and photos on Facebook. One photo I saw showed a t-shirt that read "I survived Auckland's 2.9 earthquake" and another showed a latte that had been spilt.

I've lived in Auckland for 11 years and most of my friends from this city weren't born here. In fact the majority of my Auckland friends are actually from Christchurch, so I kinda get tired of people slagging off Aucklanders. I was born in Te Puke, Bay of Plenty, and now I live here.

The small earthquake was simply something rare that gave some people a bit of a fright - after 9 months of hearing and seeing just how deadly and destructive an earthquake can be it's not surprising.

But while most Aucklanders today will be discussing the fact they never felt anything at all, there will be others that may never feel another earthquake again.

So yes, absolutely small, absolutely nothing compared to Christchurch - but it's not a competition, it's simply news. And this news story will be mostly forgotten in the near future unlike the horror that has unfolded further south in Christchurch which will never be forgotten in our lifetime.

- Blog written by Philip Duncan, www.Twitter.com/PhilipDuncan

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