Be ready, quake professor warns home town

Professor Tom Wilson and his former Mt Hutt College geography teacher Bruce Dickson at the alpine quake roadshow in Methven.

Tom Wilson got an A+ from former Methven teacher Bruce Dickson on one the most important presentations of his life so far.

The former Mt Hutt College student was in Methven this week to encourage people to be better prepared for the 8.0 magnitude alpine quake that scientists say is inevitable.

Academics have crunched the numbers and carbon-dated sediment from around the South Island, evidence of 27 big alpine quakes over the past 8000 years. They happen on average every 300 years and the last one was in 1717. That’s 304 years ago so one is likely in our lifetimes.

Tom acknowledged his former geography teacher and cricket coach, who was in a crowd of about 130 to hear the be prepared message. The student with the inquiring mind is now a professor of disaster risk and resilience at the University of Canterbury and for the last five years he has been leading research into the alpine fault.

Bruce was impressed, though the news was dire. Mid Canterbury will fare well in the initial shaking but secondary hazards will be a problem. Houses will move but they shouldn’t collapse. He said Tom was not only a great wicket-keeper, he was a bright student he took for Year 11 geography in 1999.

He said Tom had also explained a very complicated alpine fault issue in plain language.

The alpine fault roadshow AF8 is part of a series being jointly presented by science and civil defence. It is about raising awareness and being better prepared for the big one that is coming.

The 400km alpine fault line is the result of the Earth’s Pacific and Australian plates rubbing past each other. AF8 scientists have modelled a worst-case scenario and hope for something less. Data collected on 27 full-length quakes showed it was a mature fault line that regularly ruptured between 140 and 700 years, an average of 300 years.

Tom said it had been 304 years since the last major quake in 1717 so the probability of another grew with each passing year. see an alpine fault quake in our lifetime so it is something we should prepare for.

The shaking would be felt around New Zealand and even in Sydney. The West Coast would be cut off as roads and bridges collapsed.

Canterbury’s soft sedimentary basin would slow down the energy of the quake. Timber-framed, light-roofed houses would move around but be okay though chimneys not removed would fall. Landslides and liquefaction would be secondary problems for us.

“While we might be okay, communities elsewhere will need a lot of assistance.”

So, deal with your quake-prone buildings now and get to know your neighbours, they’ll be the ones to come to your aid. Find out who has a generator on your street and store the kind of petrol it takes.

And hope that when the big one comes, it will be at 4am. You’ll be in bed and that is the safest place.