Kiwis urged to take tsunami risk more seriously

By Paul Harper

Professor James Goff, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, says many researchers are now producing detailed tsunami hazard assessments to help manage such events. Photo / supplied
Professor James Goff, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, says many researchers are now producing detailed tsunami hazard assessments to help manage such events. Photo / supplied

New Zealand authorities are only just waking up to the risks tsunamis pose to our coastlines but they don't know how bad a destructive tsunami could be here, an Australian expert says.

Meanwhile an Indonesian woman now living in New Zealand who lost her mother in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami says Kiwis need to take the risks of tsunamis more seriously.

Professor James Goff, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, will be in Christchurch next Wednesday to give a public lecture at the University of Canterbury about the threat of tsunamis.

"Eighty-five percent of all historically documented tsunamis have occurred in the Pacific region and while scientists are still pretty much scratching the surface when it comes to understanding how bad these events have been over the past few thousand years, New Zealand is well ahead of the game and has one of the most comprehensive geological records of tsunamis in the world," Goff says.

"Once you start looking back over the past few thousand years, the greatest number of tsunamis found at any one site in New Zealand is on the West Coast, not the east coast as most people suspect."

In his lecture, Goff will ask whether the Japanese were prepared for the 2011 tsunami and what risks are posed ton New Zealand should a massive tsunami strike our coastline.

"Tsunamis can be catastrophic and events such as the recent Tohoku-oki disaster in Japan show us just how bad they can be," he says.

"However, all is not lost because many researchers are now producing detailed tsunami hazard assessments that are there to help manage such events.

The important thing though is to know how good those assessments really are - we do not want to be lulled into a false sense of security, but equally we do not want to hit the panic button.

"My focus is primarily to wake up a few more people to the tsunami hazard in New Zealand. Since the relatively minor 2010 Chile earthquake that sent New Zealand a long distance tsunami, some local and regional authorities have been waking up to how bad things could be.

"We need to seriously understand the nature of the tsunami hazard for New Zealand's coast. We don't know when they are going to happen, but we do know that they will - so let's know as much as we can about the nature of this beast."

Meanwhile an art exhibition starting next week by Auckland-based Indonesian artist, Rozana Lee, whose mother died in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, aims to generate awareness of the dangers tsunamis pose.

Lee, who has been in New Zealand for three years, says people need to be take drills seriously so they are prepared and instinctively know what to do when a tsunami occurs.

"People still go to the beach when there is a warning," she says.

Her town in Aceh, northwest Sumatra, did not have any tsunami warning systems and believes all coastal towns in New Zealand need to have warning systems in place.

About 160,000 people in the Aceh region died in the tsunami, which was generated by a magnitude 9.3 tremor off the coast.

"[The artwork] is part of my story and what happened to my family ... I want to share it," Lee says.

The free exhibition, entitled Tsunami Hour, opens on May 7 and runs until May 25 at the Artstation CellBlock in Newton.

- NZ Herald

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