An­niver­sary re­minder for Shaky Isles

Re­silience of small com­mu­ni­ties to Kaik­oura quake ac­knowl­edged and ap­plauded

Weekend Herald - - Viewpoints -

If it were not for the Christchurch earth­quake five years ear­lier, the Kaik­oura quake — a year ago this com­ing Tues­day — would have shaken the na­tional con­scious­ness more than per­haps it has. At mag­ni­tude 7.8 the quake that hit the Kaik­oura district just af­ter mid­night on Novem­ber 14 last year, was even stronger than the Can­ter­bury earth­quake and hit the res­i­dents in the same way.

They re­mem­ber a sound like an on­rush­ing train be­fore it hit them with a force that threw peo­ple out of beds, across rooms, buck­led build­ings, roads and rail­way lines, sheared farm land, caused mas­sive slips on hill­sides and raised the seabed. Like the first Can­ter­bury quake, it struck in dark­ness. Shaken peo­ple had to wait for day­light to see the full ex­tent of the dam­age.

When some­thing like this hap­pens to a city, the vic­tims know the whole coun­try is aware of their hard­ships and fol­low­ing the progress of their re­cov­ery. When it hap­pens to a small town, the res­i­dents can eas­ily feel alone and for­got­ten. That is one rea­son this an­niver­sary should be na­tion­ally ob­served and the re­silience of small com­mu­ni­ties widely ad­mired.

“It’s a ru­ral mind­set,” a Wa­iau man told our re­porter Kurt Bayer in the fea­ture we pub­lish to­day, “You suck it up and move on.” Wa­iau in North Can­ter­bury, on the epi­cen­tre of the quake, was hit even harder than Kaik­oura. Many of its houses were de­stroyed and most of its pub­lic build­ings are still out of com­mis­sion. Ru­ral cen­tres of­ten strug­gle to keep pop­u­la­tion and pro­fes­sional and com­mer­cial ser­vices at the best of times. An earth­quake of this mag­ni­tude could be the end of them. But no such talk is re­ported from Wa­iau, pop­u­la­tion 300.

Kaik­oura, on the cel­e­brated coast, is much bet­ter known na­tion­ally. The spec­tac­u­lar road and rail­way close to the sea were mem­o­rable stretches of a jour­ney south. It has taken the best part of the year to clear the land­slips that fell on the road and rail­way. SH1 north of Kaik­oura will be re­opened for traf­fic on De­cem­ber 15, but even then there will be un­sealed sec­tions and con­tin­u­ing road­works will hold up traf­fic. The drive from Pic­ton to Christchurch is ex­pected to take at least five and a half hours.

For Kaik­oura, though, a re­stored through-route will mean sur­vival. For a year the town has been at the end of a long road from Christchurch, a long way for tourists to go for whale watch­ing and cray­fish. To­day, we re­port, main street re­mains eerily quiet with lo­cals on er­rands and road work­ers in flu­oro-vests out­num­ber­ing vis­i­tors. Hope­fully that will change af­ter the road opens next month.

Two earth­quakes above mag­ni­tude 7 within the present decade un­der­line how prone we are. The rel­a­tively quiet 80 years be­tween Napier, 1931, and Christchurch, 2011, al­lowed us al­most to for­get we live on a bound­ary of tec­tonic plates. It

Two earth­quakes above mag­ni­tude 7 within the present decade un­der­line how prone we are.

crosses from the North Is­land’s east coast to the South Is­land’s west coast through south­ern Marl­bor­ough. Those are the more vul­ner­a­ble re­gions but no part of the coun­try can af­ford to be com­pla­cent.

Build­ings should be brought up to mod­ern seis­mic stan­dards as soon as rea­son­ably pos­si­ble and all New Zealan­ders should know what to do in a big quake. Their an­niver­saries are a good re­minder of how hard it can be to re­cover.

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