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Political correctness risks repeat of Tangiwai

Nick Smith National Conservation Spokesperson

7 June 2001

Political correctness risks repeat of Tangiwai disaster

Conservation Minister Sandra Lee is putting lives at risk in the name of political correctness by not proceeding with minor earthworks on the crater lake of Mr Ruapehu to prevent a recurrence of the lethal lahar that caused the Tangiwai disaster, National Conservation spokesperson Nick Smith said today.

"The 1996 eruption of Mt Ruapehu created a loose dam at the lake outlet that will fail some time in the next three years, as the lake gradually refills. This will send a lahar down the Whangeahu river catchment putting State Highway 1, the main trunk railway and Transpower lines at risk.

"An identical series of events arose from the 1946 eruption of Ruapehu resulting in the 1953 lahar that destroyed the Whangaehu Railway Bridge, causing the Tangiwai disaster which killed 151 people. Studies indicate the lahar due in the next few years with be significantly larger that that of 1953.

"The Minister is allowing political correctness over Maori spiritual values on Mt Ruapehu, and environmental sensitivities, to prevent minor earthworks that are necessary for public safety. The warning system will still put the lives of trampers in the valley at risk, and will not prevent millions of dollars of damage to essential infrastructure of the highway, railway and national electricity grid.

"It is such an inadequate response when this impending disaster is so predictable and so preventable. The works on the mountain would involve small excavators and cost only $200,000. We owe it to the memory of the people killed on Christmas Eve in 1951 to do everything practical to prevent a repeat of this tragedy.

Dr Smith, who has a PhD in New Zealand landslides, said the Government should heed the advice of the Ruapehu District Council and Transit New Zealand which have argued that the alarm system is inadequate and that the earthworks should proceed.

Ends

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