Saturday, January 21, 2017
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Whiritoa at risk of being cut off

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Whiritoa could be one of the most at-risk towns of being cut off in an earthquake, according to a local Civil Defence controller.

Hauraki District Council’s Steve Fabish made the assessment after visiting the small rural community of Waiau in the South Island.

Waiau is town of approximately 280 people, about 30 kilometres east of Hanmer Springs in North Canterbury. After the Kaikoura earthquake they were cut off by damaged roads and bridges, and had been fending for itself for several days before he arrived.

“The community did a great job of self-responding for the first few days. In typical small rural community style, the local primary school was open and serving sausages and coffee within an hour or two of the big shake,” he says.

Over the next few days he worked with community stalwarts and other Civil Defence volunteers to organise respite for an exhausted local fire brigade, the distribution of food and water for thirsty families and stock, the establishment of emergency welfare and recovery centres, and robust communication networks.

Steve learnt a lot from the experience, and can see how some communities back home can benefit from being prepared.

He says it’s not only earthquakes that pose a threat to the Coromandel region.

“Even a major weather event could cause movement on that coast road in the way of slips could isolate that community, like many Coromandel communities. So we’re working with Whiritoa now to have good systems in place to make sure they can cope by themselves if necessary, until we could get help in there.”

He says much of the initial response in townships like Whiritoa would be self-driven.

“It’s called a community response plan. It involves the community managing their own situation.

“It basically means ensuring they have enough supplies in the town and have generators to keep the public toilets going, that sort of thing.”

Such a community-driven response is what kept Waiau up and running.

“They actually self-managed for about three days before Civil Defence could get in.

He says the advice to the public is to take some steps themselves towards preparing for a disaster.

“Ideally people should have a go-bag packed and be ready to take responsibility for themselves, their families, and their neighbours in an emergency. They shouldn’t be waiting around for us to come in and tell them what to do.”


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