Wellington Not Prepared For Major Quake, All Routes Could Be Blocked

(Update: Read the report on the TVNZ website)

A new Wellington Council report has just highlighted the serious implications of a major earthquake in Wellington, the capital city and seat of government for New Zealand.

Stuff covered the report and alongside it ran a poll asking people to vote on how well they thought the city was prepared for a major earthquake, the results are disconcerting.

No faith in preparedness for a major quake in Wellington

No doubt, these results are influenced by the response to the Canterbury earthquakes. It comes as a massive vote of no confidence in the present council’s ability to manage a similar situation in Wellington. People must be feeling that they are living on borrowed time.

Here are some of the implications of a major earthquake in Wellington, as reported by Stuff. The city would become unreachable and all routes in and out will be blocked.

  • Major routes in and out of New Zealand’s  could be blocked by rubble from more than 400 buildings with unstable masonry in the event of a big earthquake.
  • The city’s economy would take a $37 billion hit if it experienced an event like the Christchurch earthquake, with many core businesses and services – including the Government – likely to leave the city permanently.
  • Many of those earthquake-prone buildings are along important strategic roads, which means that routes needed by emergency services may be blocked by fallen masonry.
  • Wellington City Council is investigating ways in which it can help to speed up earthquake-strengthening work in the city.

In a meeting in February 2012 the Mayor of quake devastated Christchurch, Bob Parker said

Parker on Wellington: ‘I’m scared to be here‘ : Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker has warned local authorities to do everything they can to protect against an earthquake, saying he is scared to be in the capital..

…”I come to Wellington and I’m scared to be here. People will say that’s crazy, that’s just Bob, he’s been through 18 months of hell but there’s nothing like that feeling of being absolutely bulletproof until it happens to you.

What price is a human life, are you going to be more worried about the buildings or the people? My jaded view, ladies and gentlemen.” more here

Even Gerry Brownlee (Earthquake Recovery Minister ) has expressed his concerns earthquake risks in Wellington, referring back to the Canterbury earthquakes’ enquiry, also implying that in the past the risks have been ignored:

“In the last couple of weeks, almost daily at the Royal Commission, we have heard evidence that you simply can’t ignore the earthquake risk that some older buildings do present.

“You are better knowing what that risk is, than finding out as a result of some tragedy.”

Brownlee, who is also Transport Minister, said the potential for Wellington to be cut off had concerned him for some time.

“Wellington is quite right to point out there could be a certain amount of isolation if there was a large earthquake.

One of the things that was helpful for Christchurch was that it is flat and you can circumnavigate the city from one side to another by a multitude of other routes.

“Not everywhere, particularly Wellington, has that opportunity.”

The Christchurch earthquake would change the way towns were planned, he said.

“You look at how life lines work.

“We’ll obviously over time have to reconsider a whole lot of things around various risk factors where there is a large urban population.”

Meanwhile people are living, working, learning and vacationing in the city, the government is based there. Let’s hope for all their sakes the council gets this report through committee quickly and gets those buildings sorted out sharpish.

It should also consider moving the essential workings of parliament to Auckland, which has a far lower earthquake risk, until strengthening works have been completed and routes made safe.

To have a ‘Christchurch’ happen in Wellington wouldn’t be a disaster just for the city but could easily cripple the entire nation.

Wellington Fault Most Dangerous

The Wellington Fault is New Zealand’s “most dangerous geological hazard” link. It is thought that the Māori legend of the formation of Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour) derives from an oral record of an early quake along this fault:

Ngake crashed into and through the rocks at Seatoun and headed out into the Strait. This was seen by Whataitai, who tried to follow Ngake out of the new entrance. The water was now running out of the lake, however, and Whataitai became stranded in the shallows. He stayed there for many generations before being lifted high onto the land by a great earthquake.” source

Click on the links for more blogs about Wellington earthquakes and the Wellington Fault.