NZ first tsunami high ground in Tauranga

An image from the tsunami that had hit Japan in 2011. Supplied photo.

Tauranga City Council has made history with the official opening of the first purpose-built tsunami high ground in Australasia by the Minister of Civil Defence, Kris Faafoi.

“This tsunami high ground is the culmination of years of ground breaking research and investment that has allowed us to understand how a tsunami might affect our coastline," says Deputy Mayor, Kelvin Clout.

“The high ground has been engineered to withstand a major earthquake, the scouring effects of tsunami water and can take the combined weight of 4000 people.  

“Six years ago we were only beginning to understand the specific tsunami risk to our city. Images from the tsunami that had hit Japan in 2011 were still fresh in our minds. Most people assumed that the only place to be safe from a tsunami would be the top of the Papamoa hills, and of course, that everyone would have to drive there.”

Traffic modelling shows that if everyone tried to evacuate the coastal areas in their cars, it would take up to eight hours to get everyone out. That is on a good day with no disaster or panic.

Minister of Civil Defence Hon Kris Faafoi says Tauranga City Council had worked to keep its community safe.

“I was pleased to hear that the need was identified by the community who are preparing themselves for an emergency, and that council have seen the benefit and progressed this high ground.

"Timely evacuation for school children and others with low mobility is vital in an emergency, and to have both community and council get prepared is really outstanding."  

Council has a good understanding of our local tsunami risks. We know where the tsunami flooding is likely to go, and we know how fast it is likely to be moving.

The tsunami that is most likely to overtop our dune system would be triggered by a massive seismic event along the Kermadec Trench. We would feel that seismic event here, possibly the biggest earthquake that we have felt in Tauranga in living memory.

The resulting tsunami would reach this coastline after about 60 minutes.

Council has been able to identify safe areas all along the coastline and has created a network of evacuation routes for people to be able to reach those safe areas, on foot, within about 40 minutes.

Council has invested in an earthquake-proof evacuation bridge so people can get across the Wairakei Stream.

And Council built the high ground at Gordon Spratt Reserve, the first of its type in Australasia, and the first of several that are planned for the Western Bay coastline.

Now that we have evacuation routes, we can start thinking about ways to add technology solutions to our suite of warning systems.

"We have a proposal in our Long Term Plan about tsunami alerting systems," says Kelvin.

"There are options around outdoor public address speakers and 26,000 in-home warning devices for the most at-risk properties along our coastline.

"This would be supplemented by the national alerting system."

This is the last day to have your say about this proposal; submission forms are available on Council’s website:

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