DISASTERS IN NEW ZEALAND
the risk of a natural disaster in New Zealand and around
the world? New Zealand is precariously situated, jutting
skyward between two colossal tectonic plates, slap bang
in the middle of a deep ocean, and vulnerable to tsunami,
earthquakes, storms, floods, and volcanic activity. A deadly
natural disaster is possible. So what's the risk?
of deadly natural disasters occur around the world each
DISASTERS IN NEW ZEALAND
A devastating landslide obliterated the Ngati Tuwharetoa
village of Te Rapa on the south-west shore of Lake
Taupo. Sixty people were killed, including the paramount
chief Mananui Te Heuheu Tukino II. This remains
New Zealand’s highest death toll from a landslide.
Rapa sat below the volcanic springs of Mt Kakaramea.
The missionary Richard Taylor recorded that an ‘unusually
rainy season occasioned a large landslip’
on the mountain. The slip dammed a stream which,
three days later, ‘burst its barriers, and,
with irresistible force, swept rocks, trees and
earth with it into the lake’. The avalanche
of debris buried Te Rapa and only a few people managed
1910, another landslide killed one person in a new
village near the old site of Te Rapa. After this
second event, the village was abandoned. The source
of landslides is an unstable geothermal area known
as the Hipaua Steaming Cliffs. This still causes
problems for engineers working on State Highway
41, which passes between the cliffs and Lake Taupo.
Waihi village now stands on the lakeside.
In 1855 a magnitude 8.2 earthquake – the most
powerful ever recorded in New Zealand – rocked
the southern part of the North Island. Caused by
movement along a fault in Palliser Bay, it altered
the landscape of the Wellington region and affected
its subsequent urban development.
after 9 p.m. on evening
of 23 January 1855 a
violent earthquake began; in Wellington the main
shock lasted for at least 50 seconds. People fled
outdoors, where they remained for the night in tents
and makeshift beds, as incessant aftershocks rocked
the area – one person counted 250 in the first
11 hours. The aftershocks would continue for months.
CENTRAL OTAGO FLOODS
In 1863, prospectors swarmed over the mountains
of Central Otago, camping along the streams and
rivers where there was gold. The winter that year
was severe, with thick snow blanketing the mountains.
In July, warm rain deluged the region for six days,
and rain and melted snow poured into the rivers.
Between 25 and 27 July, rivers swelled to disastrous
levels. During a single night the tributaries of
the Molyneux (now the Clutha) – the Shotover,
Kawarau and Arrow rivers – rose by 6 to 10
metres. The floods overwhelmed dozens of miners
asleep in tents and makeshift huts on the river
banks beside their claims, or even on terraces well
above normal river levels. Eight huts disappeared
from a beach in the Arrow Gorge, and by morning,
only one tent of many was left on a terrace opposite
the Arrow township. In the upper Shotover River
the torrent undermined a terrace, and a hut where
15 men were living collapsed into the river, and
On the Arrow River, a landslide dam broke, releasing
a wall of water that swirled through the lower areas
of Arrowtown, sweeping away buildings and burying
everything beneath several metres of gravel. Most
miners escaped to high ground, but many lost all
their belongings and equipment. By the end of August,
more than 100 lives had been lost because of the
Central Otago floods.
On 3/4 February a violent storm swept across much
of the country, wrecking 12 ships – including
the Star of Tasmania and Water Nymph at Oamaru –
and causing flash floods. More than 40 lives were
TIMARU HARBOUR TRAGEDY
On 14 May a sudden storm wrecked two large sailing
ships, the City of Perth and Ben Venue, in Timaru’s
exposed roadstead. Nine lives were lost. Among the
dead were the port’s harbourmaster and five
local watermen, who had tried to rescue the ships’
10 June the volcanic Mt Tarawera, south-east of
Rotorua, erupted spectacularly, killing perhaps
120 people and burying the famed Pink and White
Terraces on Lake Rotomahana. The eruption lasted
six hours and caused massive destruction. It destroyed
several villages, along with the famous silica hot
springs known as the Pink and White Terraces. Approximately
120 people, nearly all Maori, lost their lives.
the early hours of 10 June, people awoke to earthquakes,
lightning, fountains of molten rock, and columns
of smoke and ash up to 10 km high. People as far
away as Blenheim heard the eruption. Some thought
it was an attack by a Russian warship.
17-km-long rift split Mt Tarawera and extended as
far south as Waimangu. The eruption covered land
with millions of tonnes of ash and debris, transformed
lakes, and flattened bush. It was over by dawn,
though ash made day as dark as night. Men from Rotorua
and Ohinemutu formed rescue parties and began digging
out survivors and casualties. Settlements at Te
Tapahoro, Moura, Te Ariki, Totarariki, Waingongongo
and Te Wairoa were destroyed or buried. Te Wairoa,
known as ‘The Buried Village’, later
became a tourist attraction.
LANDSLIDE ON WHITE ISLAND
On 10 September 10 sulfur miners were killed on
White Island when part of the crater wall collapsed,
causing a landslide. The only survivor was the mining
company’s cat, Peter the Great.
White Island, in the Bay of Plenty 50 km from Whakatane
and Opotiki, is New Zealand’s most active
volcano. Sulfur mining on White Island recommenced
in the late 1920s but proved uneconomic and ceased
in the early 1930s. A total of 11,000 tonnes had
been obtained. Today the island is a privately owned
scenic reserve and tourism venture.
On 17 June 1929, at 10.17 a.m. an earthquake measuring
7.8 on the Richter scale struck the north of the
South Island, killing 17 people. The shock was felt
throughout New Zealand but centred on the Murchison
area, where it caused massive landslides. For days
preceding the earthquake, booming noises had been
heard in the hills around Murchison. The earthquake
itself was exceptionally noisy: rumblings were heard
in New Plymouth, over 250 kilometres away. When
the main shock struck, wooden homes warped, twisted
and shifted from their piles, and chimneys and water
tanks collapsed. People scrambled outdoors, but
once there found they were unable to stand.
HAWKE'S BAY EARTHQUAKE
On Tuesday morning, 3 February 1931, at 10.47 a.m,
New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake devastated
the cities of Napier and Hastings. At least 256
people died in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake –
161 in Napier, 93 in Hastings, and 2 in Wairoa.
Many thousands more required medical treatment.
As buildings began to disintegrate, many people
fled outdoors into a lethal rain of chunks from
ornate facades, parapets and cornices. Buildings
swayed violently, and their walls bulged and collapsed
into the streets in avalanches of brick and masonry
that crushed vehicles and people.
Within minutes of the earthquake, fire began in
the business district. Firefighters were almost
helpless – water pressure faded to a trickle
as the reservoir emptied. After the earthquake most
homes lacked water, electricity, sewerage and chimneys,
and people camped in open areas as continuous tremors
made it dangerous to stay inside.
Ten days after the quake, the region was shaken
by the largest aftershock since the initial earthquake,
a powerful magnitude 7.3 jolt that did yet more
damage to already weakened buildings.
On 19 February a flash flood swept away a Public
Works railway construction camp on the East Coast.
Twenty men and one woman drowned when a cloudburst
sent a wall of water surging through a public works
camp in the Kopuawhara Valley, near Mahia.
on the banks of the Kopuawhara Stream, the no. 4
camp accommodated workers building the Wairoa–Gisborne
Although the stream was in flood after heavy rain,
the 5-m-high wall of water that hit the camp sometime
after 3 a.m. took everyone by surprise. Water began
pouring across the campsite, sweeping away everything
in its path.Some
men took refuge on the roofs of huts, but most of
these structures collapsed.
On 24 May an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter
scale struck the Inangahua area on the West Coast.
Three people were killed. The Inangahua tremors
triggered numerous landslides in the surrounding
mountains. A huge landslide dammed the Buller River
above Inangahua Junction. The rising water backed
up for 7 kilometres, raising the river 30 metres
above its normal level. If the landslide dam had
burst, the river would have flooded not only Inangahua
but also Westport. Everyone in its path had to be
CANTURBURY (DARFIELD) EARTHQUAKE
On 4 September 2010 at 4.35 a.m, the Canterbury
region was struck by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake.
Although there were no deaths, this was –
at the time – the largest to affect a major
urban area since the 1931 Hawke’s Bay quake.
Many thousands of people faced a massive clean-up,
the rebuilding of their homes and businesses, and
a lengthy process of physical and psychological
recovery - while being jolted by aftershocks, and
living in fear of another large earthquake.
At 12.51 p.m. on 22 February a 6.3 magnitude earthquake
struck 10 km south-east of central Christchurch
at a depth of only 5 km. The death toll was 185
making it New Zealand’s worst natural disaster
in terms of loss of life since 1931. Although not
as powerful as the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on 4
September 2010, this earthquake occurred on a shallow
fault line that was close to the city, so the shaking
was particularly destructive.The
earthquake brought down many buildings damaged the
previous September, especially older brick and mortar
buildings. Heritage buildings suffered heavy damage.
was much more extensive than in September 2010.
Shaking turned water-saturated layers of sand
and silt beneath the surface into sludge that
squirted upwards through cracks. Thick layers
of silt covered properties and streets, and water
and sewage from broken pipes flooded streets.
House foundations cracked and buckled, wrecking
many homes. Irreparable damage led to the demolition
of several thousand homes, and large tracts of
suburban land were subsequently abandoned. Power
companies restored electricity to 75 per cent
of the city within three days, but re-establishing
water supplies and sewerage systems took much
At 12.02 a.m. on 14 November a magnitude 7.8 earthquake
struck New Zealand, causing significant damage to
buildings and infrastructure in southern Marlborough
and northern Canterbury. Landslides cut off road
and rail links to Kaikoura, stranding large numbers
of visitors in the popular tourist town. Two people
lost their lives: one at a property in Mt Lyford
as a result of a heart attack and another when a
homestead collapsed in Kaikoura.
The tsunami that followed the Kaikoura earthquake
reached a peak height of about 7 metres. The tsunami
was found to be highest at Goose Bay, with data
indicating a maximum run-up height above tide level
at the time of the tsunami of 6.9 m ± 0.3
m. At Oaro, the height was 5.3 m ± 0.3 m.
Marine and freshwater flora and fauna were later
found scattered across the Oaro River flood plain,
extending 250 metres (820 ft) inland from the high
tide mark on the day of the survey.