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Expecting the “big-one” at Haast

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Having fun in the hills!

« on: March 13, 2010, 11:57:52 pm »

From the Otago Daily Times...

Residents told to be prepared for the big one

By MARJORIE COOK - Your Town: Haast | Saturday, 13 February 2010

Dr Simon Cox, of GNS Science, Dunedin, at the Department of Conservation's Haast Visitor Information Centre on Wednesday night. — Photo: Marjorie Cook.
Dr Simon Cox, of GNS Science, Dunedin, at the Department of Conservation's Haast Visitor
Information Centre on Wednesday night. — Photo: Marjorie Cook.

When the long overdue major Southern Alps faultline rupture occurs, Haast residents may experience an eight-metre shift of the ground beneath their feet.

If they survive, they will need to be prepared to wait for a long time for help to come.

Geologist Dr Simon Cox, of GNS Sciences, Dunedin, presented a frightening scenario to more than 50 people at a seminar in Haast on Wednesday night, held as part of the Department of Conservation's summer programme.

His seminar updated residents and visitors on earthquake research developments before going on to describe the rich and varied geology of the area caused by the alpine fault.

Haast is home to 297 permanent residents, according to Census 2006 data, and can have up to 700 visitors a day.

The population lives right on top of the faultline in a 50km stretch of small coastal villages between the Haast River and Jackson Bay.

The faultline starts hundreds of kilometres up the coast and continues down to the Jackson River, through the Cascade Valley to Milford Sound.

An earthquake of magnitude 7 or 8 could devastate large parts of the South Island, Dr Cox said.

Haast residents could expect to lose at least their power supply and hydro scheme.

They might also have to head for the hills to avoid coastal tsunamis.

Large rock landslips would block the alpine highways providing access out of Haast.

Rivers would also be dammed, creating the potential for dam-burst floods of sediment down the river valleys — presenting another threat to residents as they fled the coast.

Intense shaking of the ground could also cause "sand volcanoes" — where sand liquefies — that would "burst out everywhere", Dr Cox said.

Scientists from New Zealand and overseas have studied the alpine fault and collected data showing major ruptures occurred at Haast about 1430, 1620 and 1717.

In 1717, the Haast River channel was offset by at least 8 metres.

They have also discovered the rate of movement between the Australian and Pacific plates — which creates the fault line — is 35mm a year.

Scientists thought the alpine fault was sliding along quietly but after analysing tests on soil age, they realised a grand shake was more likely.

Scientists have been warning of the destructive impact a large rupture would have on the South Island population and environment.

"The current thinking [is] that the 8 metre shift will happen in one motion.

That could be a reasonably small earthquake, believe it or not, to get 8 metres.

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