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Using knowledge limits risks

Opinion Piece

For many centuries, humans considered earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, flooding, prolonged drought and other severe weather events to be acts of God. Following any devastating nature event, the natural response was: nothing we could do about it, let’s get on with life.

Gone are the days of thinking such events were God’s punishment. With scientific knowledge and understanding, we can prepare ourselves for the worst.

Our city Gisborne and surrounding low-lying coastal regions sits on an extremely active tectonic plate boundary. We know of our vulnerability to earthquake and tsunami events.

During my last year at school, in March 1947, a mid-morning offshore 7.1 earthquake triggered a tsunami that swamped shorelines between Muriwai and Tolaga Bay. The area between Pouawa and Turihaua received the full brunt, with 10-metre-high surges sweeping away dwellings and bridges.

At 9 metres above sea level, the old Tatapouri hotel was flooded — leaving tidal debris on lower window sills. Amazingly no one perished or was badly injured.

This wasn’t a one-off. A lesser 6m-high tsunami hit the same general areas two months later, and there have been others. Check Wikipedia.

We should be mindful that all construction in those tidal zones could be but temporary. We have the knowledge. Any future sea surges that harm them will not be an Act of God.

Incidentally, even as an avid cyclist I do not fully support the riverside route for the Taruheru shared cycle/ walkway — for this and other reasons.

Climate scientists and Niwa continuously warn us to expect more frequent and worsening weather events as our planet heats up and climate change worsens.

Low-lying cities throughout the world already suffer from more frequent and severe sea flooding through faster-than-predicted sea level rise.

We humans need to become more responsible for our actions and decisions.

We may not have the power to prevent the earthquakes and tsunamis, but we can prepare for the more severe and frequent weather bombs that sea level rise and climate change will surely bring to our Tairawhiti district.

Bob Hughes