Earthquake News

Authorities in New Zealand battled complacency when it came to earthquake preparedness. 


New Zealanders have been given a rude awakening: it's past time to prepare for the "Big One," the long-feared massive earthquake that authorities have warned about for years.

Officials are assessing whether routinely dire warnings have yet led to the hoped-for sea change in the nation's preparedness as this small island nation picks up the pieces after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck its second-largest city, Christchurch, killing scores of people and trapping hundreds more.

According to Graeme Beattie, a structural engineer in Christchurch this week to look at the seismic reaction of structures, local building standards in place since the mid-2000s appear to have served the city well.

Mr. Beattie was part of a similar reconnaissance team that went to Seattle after the Nisqually earthquake in 2001, and again in Chile after the Maule earthquake last year.

According to Beattie, what he's seen here appears to be pretty good news for owners and occupants of buildings built to the more stringent requirements of the last five years. "I haven't seen any supermodern buildings that have come to major harm," he says.

Simultaneously, he claims, it has remained difficult to measure the issue of psychological preparation among the city's 400,000 residents.

"It's easy for people to become comfortable, to ignore [the earthquake threat]," Beattie says. Especially in such a beautiful location as Christchurch.

Because much of Canterbury Province's outer territory is pancake-flat, many people have assumed that the fear of a severe earthquake in the area had faded over the millennia. It used to be claimed that any apocalyptic earthquake in Canterbury would radiate out from the Great Alpine Fault in the South Island. However, the 7.0-magnitude quake on September 4 was far from the main zone, and Tuesday's quake was even more away.

A 6.3-magnitude earthquake strikes Christchurch, New Zealand.


New Zealand has a slew of projects geared at keeping the public informed about the country's geological realities. The art of diving under a desk or hunkering behind an open doorway is taught to schoolchildren here on a regular basis. In the recent decade, such activities have become more common.

The country's Earthquake Commission launched a long-running "Fix, Fasten, Forget" television campaign in 2001, featuring two humorous characters who are continuously doing "wrong" earthquake precautions. It was determined that the campaign was a success.

However, more recently, the popular television show "Are You Ready?" addressed the same issues, with the producer emphasizing the need for "a fundamental rethink about the way the entire bureaucracy is constituted" in terms of buildings, insurance, and other issues.

New Zealand's deputy prime minister, Bill English, said in a statement that the country had shown itself to be well equipped on the insurance front. After last year's quake, the Earthquake Commission, an official institution that handles the majority of the financial consequences of such an occurrence, has already begun to improve its assets.

Mr. English claims that this, combined with the "reinsurance" the commission had taken out after the September quake, meant it could cover the cost of claims for damage to residential properties resulting from what officials now refer to as New Zealand's "darkest day" – the "Big One" they tried to warn everyone about.

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