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Asia Minute: Tsunami Lessons from New Zealand

AP Photo/Mark Baker

Life is back to normal for residents of coastal New Zealand this week. Late last week, a series of powerful earthquakes struck the South Pacific — leading to tsunami warnings around the region. And while the waves were not as high as feared, for some they were a wake-up call.

New Zealand’s Emergency Management Minister says most people in affected areas followed the government’s warning about a potential tsunami – evacuating and moving to higher ground.

Kiri Allan said that the government had been planning a tsunami safety campaign, and that last week’s earthquakes underline the need for that awareness.

The series of quakes included magnitudes of 7.3, 7.4 and 8.1. Radio New Zealand called that last “one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the South Pacific in modern history.”

At one point, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center advised the quakes could send waves of up to ten feet crashing across Vanuatu, and up to three feet in Fiji and French Polynesia. As it turned out, the impact was much less — ocean gauges in Vanuatu and New Zealand as well as islands off Australia measured heightened waves of about a foot.

Scientists say one notable aspect of the event is the location of the quakes – the intersection of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. That’s one of the most seismically active regions in the world, recording some 215 quakes above the magnitude of 6 over the past hundred years.

New Zealand’s Emergency Management Minister said one of the key takeaways is “we’re islanders of a small Pacific nation surrounded by coastlines. Tsunamis are a big part of our lives.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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