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Power Wrong Again: Lahar Safety Measures in place

14 January 2005 Media Statement

Power Wrong Again: Lahar Safety Measures in place

Conservation Minister Chris Carter assured the public today that the Government is doing all it can to ensure safety to those living near Mt Ruapehu. He was responding to comments by National's Simon Power who claimed that the Government was taking very little action regarding the pending lahar.

“Mr Power should acquaint himself with the extensive safety measures the government and the Ruapehu District Council have taken rather than trying to needlessly alarm local people for cynical political motives.”

"After careful consideration the government decided a long-term solution to the lahar threat was required. Ruapehu is a very active volcano, and the present crater lake has produced very many lahars in the last few hundred years. These lahars have been caused by a variety of mechanisms, including eruptions and collapse of the crater rim. Some of these incidents have been roughly one to two orders of magnitude larger than the 1953 event, and much larger than that which is predicted to occur in the next 1-3 years."

Many of these lahars occur without warning.

"Disaster occurred in the case of the 1953 event because the threat was not understood and precautions, including adequately designed infrastructure and warning systems, were not in place." Mr Carter said.

“We now have state of the art warning systems, automated road closure gates, and the road bridge is being raised and strengthened. We will be able to protect the public when the lahar occurs.”

"It was sad to see Mr Power arguing that the lake level should have been artificially lowered. Such intervention would have endangered workers’ lives and almost certainly have failed to eliminate the lahar risk and could have made matters worse.

Reducing the lake level would not prevent lahars occurring. We cannot prevent Ruapehu erupting, nor alter the fact that the Whangaehu Valley is probably the most active lahar path in the world. If viable transport and other infrastructure across, or near it, are to be maintained, the infrastructure had to be strengthened or re-sited, and emergency management improved.

We have taken these actions. "

"The government’s priority has been the long-term safety of the public. A recent test of the lahar warning and traffic stopping systems successfully demonstrated their high performance. This government is the first in decades to have done anything concrete to protect the lives of those using roads around the volcano by ensuring the State Highway 49 bridge is raised and strengthened. These and other measures taken will provide long-term protection for the highway travellers, which up to now has been absent. " Mr Carter said.

"This government is committed to preventing another Tangiwai disaster. The mitigation works and emergency response plans are long-term safety measures that will help ensure, as far as possible, that any future lahars, no matter how they are triggered, do not pose a serious risk to public safety." Mr Carter said.

ENDS

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