Thursday, February 22, 2007

All Shook Up

To hear the news media tell it, you’d think mass panic broke out in Auckland following three small earthquakes last night. “Three quakes have Aucklanders running into streets,” screemed the Stuff website. The New Zealand Herald’s website had a more sedate headline, “Earthquakes shake Auckland region”.

It’s important to remember that earthquakes are rare in Auckland, unlike other parts of the country. RONZers (Rest Of New Zealand) in those more active regions are probably aching with laughter to read reports implying that minor tremors caused panic in Auckland. Wellington, for example, is waiting for “The Big One” and has far more geologic activity than Auckland does.

The news media have probably exaggerated the response among Aucklanders. Still, the 4.5 tremor at 9pm last night was, according to One News, the strongest in Auckland in 116 years. It’d be natural for people unaccustomed to earthquakes to be a little freaked.

Auckland sits on top of a volcanic field, and the eruption of a new volcano (or several at once) is generally thought to be the main threat facing the city. The last major eruption was some 700 or so years ago when Rangitoto emerged from the Hauraki Gulf.

As long as people have their emergency kits ready, they’re as prepared for disaster as they can be. If so, there’s little reason to get worried about something that may never happen. Without the prudent preparations, however, a real disaster just may send people running into the streets. We won’t be among them.


lost in france said...

I once experienced a 5.3 or 5.4 tremor in Taipei, and it scared me quite a bit!

Arthur Schenck said...

I can see why you'd be scared: According to the Wikipedia article on the Richter Scale, earthquakes between 5.0 and 5.9 "Can cause major damage to poorly constructed buildings over small regions."

By contrast, the stronger of the three we had, 4.5, created only "Noticeable shaking of indoor items, rattling noises. Significant damage unlikely." That's certainly my experience of it.

I know that the worst-ever earthquake in the lower 48 US states happened only a couple hundred kilometres from where I grew up (along the New Madrid fault in Missouri and Illinois and continuing, apparently, under Memphis' sports stadium). Still, I never experienced anything until I moved here, so I'm still more fascinated than frightened. Even so, I'm expanding our emergency kit to last three days instead of only two. Just in case...