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New Tsunami Kiosk Teaches Lessons From Tragic Past

A special tsunami exhibition with hi-tech animations uses lessons from a tragic past to help residents on Rēkohu Wharekauri/Chatham Islands to be better prepared for future devastating mega-waves.

Several six-metre waves claimed over 20 lives on the Chatham Islands on August 14, 1868, triggered by a magnitude 8.5-9.5 earthquake off the coast of South America.

More than 160 years after the event, Toka Tū Ake EQC and the Joint Centre for Disaster Research from Massey University, are using modern animations to create a state-of-the art tsunami exhibition at the Chatham Museum.

“We know the Chatham Islands could be impacted by a tsunami, possibly triggered in South America, but also much closer by the Hikurangi Subduction Zone, so we want to help the locals and visitors to understand their hazard and be prepared,” says Toka Tū Ake EQC Public Education Manager Hamish Armstrong.

He explains that every New Zealander lives with different natural hazards, but there is a lot they can do to reduce the impact of those hazards.

“Most Kiwis may have heard the evacuation messages about “Long and Strong, Get Gone”, but this exhibition really brings that message home for Chatham Islanders as it shows what the tsunami scenario would look like in their own backyard,” says Armstrong.

Chatham Islands Mayor Monique Croon agrees that her community is at high risk from a tsunami, “so it is important to educate our local community, as well as our visitors, on how to spot tsunami warning signs and what to do”.

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“Our new museum is the perfect venue for this informative and striking display, and we are grateful for the support from Toka Tū Ake EQC,” says the mayor.

The animations show how the waves from the Arica earthquake in 1868 took 18 hours to travel across the Pacific Ocean to reach New Zealand’s most eastern outpost around 1am.

The unexpecting locals were awoken by the roar of the first of three enormous, six-metre waves within the space of 15 minutes. The second wave was even bigger than the first, and the third destroyed what was left in the communities that took the brunt of the ocean’s forces.

The Māori settlement at Tupuangi was hardest hit and entire whānau were washed away with their whare, killing over 20 in that site alone and destroying their homes and crops.

David Johnston from Massey University explains that his team developed the display with experts from GNS Science, EastCoast Lab and NIWA.

“Those ideas were then digitally designed by Wellington company Dusk and built into a display by Toulouse, who are one of Te Papa’s exhibit partners.”

Armstrong says that Toka Tū Ake EQC invests over $10m each year in research and public education to help New Zealanders be better prepared for natural hazards.

“We support exhibitions at Te Papa and Auckland Museum, but wanted to make sure that public education also reaches the far reaches of our country, especially as the Chatham Islands are so exposed to tsunami,” says the Public Education manager, who adds that knowing how to react to a tsunami warning could be a lifesaver for any family.

“If a quake off the New Zealand coast triggers a tsunami, you may not have much time to react or reach higher ground, so we really want to encourage all Chatham Islanders to visit the exhibition at the Chatham Museum to learn the signs of tsunami and what to do.”

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