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Natural hazards in 2007: busy and expensive - 02/05/2008

2007 was one of the most costly years on record for natural hazards, according to the annual review of natural hazards from the National Hazards Centre.

Natural Hazards review book cover

Insurance Council figures reported in the review show total disaster-related insurance payouts for 2007 are likely to exceed those for 2004, the year of the Manawatu floods. This would make 2007 the second most expensive year for insurance industry natural hazard payouts since 1968, the year of the Wahine storm.

Weather-related loss events totalled $96.25 million last year. In addition, the costs of the magnitude 6.8 Gisborne earthquake in December are approaching $50 million and still being counted.

The review shows the Earthquake Commission received 6519 claims for natural disaster damage in 2007 – three times as many as the previous year – and the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (MCDEM) recorded 900 weather and geological events or emergencies.

The Natural Hazards Centre is a joint undertaking by NIWA and GNS Science. Its annual review includes:

  • Hazards summaries, with graphics and analysis of key events
  • Reports from the Insurance Council and Earthquake Commission
  • Hazard planning reports from MCDEM and Ministry for the Environment
  • Research summaries from NIWA and GNS Science on weather-related hazards forecasting, geological hazards and society, and a regional riskscape model.

A short selection of notable hazard events from 2007 is included below:
full details are available in the 30-page report.

The report is available at: www.naturalhazards.net.nz

The Natural Hazards Centre was established in 2002 by government-owned research and consultancy organisations NIWA and GNS Science. Its role is to provide New Zealanders with a single point of contact for the latest research, resources, and scientific expertise. Its strength lies in multidisciplinary skills, all-hazard coverage, and resources for delivering world-class research to emergency and resource managers, the science community, planners, and policy makers.


Notable events in 2007
The review contains almost a dozen pages of maps and analysis of the year’s natural hazards. Some examples are:

Volcanoes:

  • Mt Ruapehu Lahar, 18 March: 1.3 million cubic metres of warm acidic water, entraining five times its weight in rock debris.
  • Mt Ruapehu ‘blue-sky’ eruption, 25 September: a boulder seriously injured a climber in Dome Hut about 700m from the centre of the Crater Lake.
  • Seismic unrest at Mt Ngauruhoe: the volcano has not erupted since 1977, but seismic unrest began in 2006 and is continuing.

Earthquakes:

  • 26 earthquakes of magnitude 5.0 or greater: this is about average for NZ
  • Gisborne earthquake, 20 December: magnitude 6.8. The year’s worst earthquake and the most damaging since March 1987 Edgecumbe quake (magnitude 6.6).

Landslides:

  • Over 100 significant landslides, including a rockfall that killed a climber in Mt Cook National Park in March.

Heavy rain & floods:

  • Northland, 28–29 March: now confirmed as a 1-in-150 year event. The heaviest rain fell for over 8–10 hours, with over 40mm an hour falling in some places.
  • Nelson & Taranaki, 22–23 May: schools and business closed; houses evacuated.
  • Hawke’s Bay, 17–18 July: up to 300mm rain fell within 48 hours. The army evacuated children from two flooded country schools.
  • South Canterbury & Otago, 30 July: heavy rain; state of emergency declared.

Coastal hazards/ tsunami:

  • East Coast South Island & Cook Strait, 25–26 June: gale force southerlies with 6m swells forced ferry cancellations; 8m waves at Banks Peninsula.
  • Oamaru, June: storm conditions caused localised erosion; factory destroyed.
  • Four tsunami recorded, but no resulting damage.

Other weather-related hazards:

  • Extraordinary swarm of damaging tornadoes in Taranaki, 4–5 July, cut a 140km wide swath of damage; state of emergency declared.
  • Driest year on record in many areas. Annual rainfall less than 75% of normal in the east from Wairarapa to Otago, eastern Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Gisborne, Manawatu, Wellington, and Nelson.
  • Lightning strikes on a single night (13 March) cut power to about 40,000 homes in Wellington.
  • For the first time since 2001, Central Otago curlers were able to play their sport on the frozen Idaburn Dam (where temperatures fell as low as minus 10ºC, 17 July). This is despite the fact that the national average temperature for the year as a whole was slightly above normal.