"Plenty more earthquakes" to come
Canterbury University engineering expert Professor Andy Buchanan wasn't mincing his words in this week's Science Media Centre media briefing - he considers it a "fluke" that no one was killed in September's 7.1 quake in Canterbury.
The time of day - the quake struck at 4.35am on a Saturday morning - meant people who may otherwise have been hit by falling masonry and non-structural building facades were safely tucked up in bed.
But in a paper he and his colleagues contributed to for the Royal Society, he points out that some pioneering research conducted in New Zealand, particularly from the 1960s onwards, underpins building practices that have radically improved the earthquake resilience of New Zealand's buildings.
Professor Buchanan said similar-sized earthquakes in other areas closer to the Alpine fault line, such as Wellington, would most likely result in loss of life. Areas that required research focus in the wake of Canterbury were the effects of liquefaction, lateral spreading of soils, non-structural building damage and the impact of earthquakes on underground infrastructure and transport networks.
His comments came as a Greater Wellington Council report appeared estimating the city could face a death toll of up to 1500, severe damage to buildings and infrastructure and would struggle to cope in the immediate aftermath of a quake similar in size to the Canterbury quake. The paper this week sparked a war of words between Civil Defence and health authorities in the region on the preparedness of health services for a disaster.
Professor Buchanan for his part says many cities throughout the country face continuing threat from older buildings with unreinforced masonry
The Press: Alpine shake 'no worse' say scientists
NZPA: Lack of quake deaths part 'fluke' and part good design