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Report helps ready Whitianga for future tsunami threats

05 November 2015

A report on the effects of the 1960 Chilean tsunami on Whitianga provides a good indication of where Whitianga town would likely be inundated if it were to experience a similar distant tsunami today.

The report, prepared by Brendan Morris and Jose Borrero for Waikato Regional Council, is a unique opportunity to combine the experiences of local eyewitnesses with historical verbal and written accounts, recent survey information and computer-generated tsunami modelling information.

"We had the opportunity to talk with five local eyewitnesses who were there on the night, and conduct onsite visits all around the town and harbour," says Brendan Morris, Project Manager Eastern Coromandel Tsunami Strategy.

"The report gives us further verification of recent tsunami modelling work, which will help to better identify likely tsunami inundation areas for other areas around the Coromandel," Mr Morris added.

Gary Talbot, Manager Thames Valley Emergency Operating Area, said that the report will raise community awareness about tsunami hazards, and the importance of understanding the source of the tsunami. “Distant source tsunami such as those coming from South America, take more than 12 hours to reach Whitianga, and do not present a significant risk to land. The main effects of distant tsunami are strong currents in the marine environment, especially within the harbour and around stream entrances”

“Our biggest tsunami risks are from local sources such as the Tonga-Kermadec Trench that reach Whitianga in about one hour. That’s why it is important to move quickly to higher ground or inland if you feel a long or strong earthquake

"The recent Chilean earthquake highlighted the need for our coastal communities to understand the difference between distant and local source quakes and the effects they have on our environment," Mr Talbot added.

To read the full report, including transcripts of eyewitness accounts click on the following link

View of the wharf at the bottom of the tidal range taken on the morning of May 24 1960 (photo courtesy Ted Ramsbotham).

The Eastern Coromandel Tsunami Strategy 

The Waikato Regional Council and our Council are jointly managing the East Coast Tsunami Strategy. The strategy has been in progress since initial scientific work to identify tsunami hazards was undertaken between 2002 and 2006. The Eastern Coromandel Tsunami Strategy is an ongoing, multi-year project that works with communities on the eastern Coromandel coast to identify and reduce the risks from tsunami events.

Projects within each of the east coast communities have two strands:

  1. To develop in collaboration with east coast communities, emergency plans to allow for the safe and timely evacuation of a community
  2. To develop long-term planning strategies to ensure critical building and infrastructural assets are located away from high-risk tsunami zones.

Projects within each of the communities use on-going public education and engagement as an important part of the project.

To read more about how we are progressing see the tsunami pages on our website