First purpose-built tsunami high ground in NZ opens in Tauranga

The first purpose-built tsunami high ground in Australasia has been created by Tauranga City Council and opened today by Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi.

Deputy Mayor Kelvin Clout says the tsunami high ground built on a reserve is the culmination of years of ground breaking research and investment that has allowed the council to understand how a tsunami might affect its coastline.

The high ground has been engineered to withstand a major earthquake, the scouring effects of tsunami water and can take the combined weight of 4000 people, Mr Clout said.

"Six years ago we were only beginning to understand the specific tsunami risk to our city. Images from the tsunami that had hit Japan in 2011 were still fresh in our minds," he said. 

“Most people assumed that the only place to be safe from a tsunami would be the top of the Papamoa hills, and of course, that everyone would have to drive there."

Traffic modelling shows that if everyone tried to evacuate the coastal areas in their cars, it would take up to eight hours to get everyone out - and that’s on a good day with no disaster or panic, he said.

Mr Faafoi said the need was identified by the community who are preparing themselves for an emergency, and the council has seen the benefit and progressed the high ground. 

"Timely evacuation for school children and others with low mobility is vital in an emergency, and to have both community and council get prepared is really outstanding," he said.

The council says a tsunami that's most likely to overtop its dune system would be triggered by a massive seismic event along the Kermadec Trench and would be possibly the biggest earthquake felt in Tauranga in living memory.

The resulting tsunami would reach the coastline after about 60 minutes.

The council has been able to identify safe areas all along the coastline and has created a network of evacuation routes for people to be able to reach those safe areas, on foot, within about 40 minutes.

The council has invested in an earthquake-proof evacuation bridge so people can get across the Wairakei Stream and built the high ground at Gordon Spratt Reserve, the first of its type in Australasia, and the first of several that are planned for the Tauranga coastline.

The council’s long-term plan proposes outdoor public address speakers and 26,000 in-home warning devices for the most at-risk properties along the coastline, supplemented by the national alerting system. 

A sign on the road in Wellington the indicates a Tsunami safe zone. Source: Seven Sharp