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Published: 2011-05-24 00:00:00

The Whitianga community is being invited along to two Queen’s Birthday weekend open days to discuss the town’s preparedness for and response to tsunamis.

The open days will be held at the Whitianga town hall on Friday 3 June from 3pm to 6pm and on Saturday 4 June from 10am to 2pm. People are being encouraged to bring to the open days copies of any historical and recent photos or video clips they have taken of tsunami events or damage.

The open days are part of the Eastern Coromandel Tsunami Strategy project which is looking at how the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula might better handle tsunami-related risks.

A pamphlet about the open days is being circulated to households in Whitianga and a summary document providing more information about the strategy is available at www.tcdc.govt.nz/tsunami. Hard copies of the document will be available at the open days or can be picked up from the Mercury Bay Area Office in Monk Street.

The strategy is being developed by Thames-Coromandel District Council (TCDC) and Waikato Regional Council following new data indicating the risk of tsunami impacting the east coast of the Coromandel is higher than previously understood.

Particular attention is being paid to the possibility of a major quake in the Tonga-Kermadec undersea trench to the north-east of New Zealand causing a big tsunami that would take only a short time to arrive.

“The recent Canterbury earthquakes, and the massive earthquake which led to a devastating tsunami in Japan in March this year, highlight the risks New Zealand faces from quakes and their tsunami-generating potential,” said TCDC’s strategic relationships manager Peter Wishart.

“While the new data on the Tonga-Kermadec trench doesn’t provide cause for immediate alarm, we are beginning new discussions with east coast communities about the future management of tsunami risks. This will build on extensive work done on preparedness in those communities previously.

"We’re starting off the new consultation discussions in Whitianga as its unique geography means it’s considered the centre most at risk from the impacts of tsunami.”

Mr Wishart said that, given the potential for significant loss of life and property damage in a big tsunami, TCDC and the regional council are very keen to hear from the Whitianga community about how it wants to manage the risks going forward.

“The open days at Queen’s Birthday weekend will provide a great opportunity for people to find out more, get any questions answered and to give their views on how things should be managed.

“The fact is that Whitianga has been hit by many tsunamis over the centuries, including ones generated by shakes a long way away and ones closer to home.

“In light of the increased perception of risk from a tsunami generated in the Tonga-Kermadec trench, we want to hear from the community this year about whether we should be changing such things as emergency response procedures and planning rules in the town, so as to better protect people and property. There have also been two recent earthquakes recorded from within the trench system reminding us how unstable that area currently is. Research indicates that the characteristics of the Tonga-Kermadec trench are very similar to that of the Japanese trench system.

“After our open days we will be rolling out a more formal consultation process as we look at the possibility of new tsunami arrangements for Whitianga.”

Mr Wishart said the project will be progressively looking at the needs of other eastern Coromandel communities as part of the strategy project.

People with any queries about the tsunami project can call or email Peter Wishart at 07 868 0200 or peter.wishart@tcdc.govt.nz. Waikato Regional Council emergency management officer Adam Munro (0800 800 401 and adam.munro@waikatoregion.govt.nz) is also available to answer queries.