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Tangiwai: History Set To Repeat

Tangiwai: History Set To Repeat

As we reflect on the Tangiwai tragedy, Christmas Eve 50 years ago, we should be looking ahead and taking more active steps to lessen the likelihood of a recurring destructive lahar, ACT New Zealand Deputy Leader Ken Shirley said today.

"I am appalled that the Labour Government is ignoring all expert advice and compromising public safety to appease the metaphysical beliefs of some local iwi," Mr Shirley said.

"On Christmas Eve 1953, the ash rim of Mount Ruapehu's crater collapsed under pressure from the lake, which had been steadily rising following the 1945 eruption. It was this massive outflow of water, mixed with melting ice and mud that cascaded as a lahar from the crater lake down the Whangaehu River.

"This lahar carried everything before it - including the pylons supporting the railway bridge at Tangiwai. Shortly after, the overnight express from Wellington arrived at the missing bridge, and 151 souls lost their life.

"Geological experts and Government scientists have prepared numerous reports - all of which confirm that the lake level is again slowly rising following the significant 1995 eruption. While it is still 10.0 metres below the old lava lip, the current rate of filling means a perilous situation is likely to exist by 2005.

"It is relatively easy to cut an overflow channel at the lava lip, to ensure the water level does not reach a point where it can breach the ash rim. Despite receiving engineering reports and recommendations to undertake this work, Labour - through the Department of Conservation - has a `non-intervention' policy at the lip.

"Instead, the Government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on monitoring alarm systems and diversion bungs down the likely lahar path. Alarm systems are notoriously unreliable and, while offering some warning, would do nothing to ameliorate a likely disaster.

"If Labour is not prepared to take avoidance measures, then it must indemnify the Ruapehu District Council and others who will bear the brunt of the pending, but avoidable, disaster," Mr Shirley said.

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