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NZ scientists visit quake-hit Peru - 31/07/2001

Three New Zealand scientists are visiting Peru this week to investigate the after effects of the magnitude 8.4 earthquake that struck southern Peru on June 23.

Hazard scientist Mark Stirling, earthquake geologist Robert Langridge, and seismologist Rafael Benites, from the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited, will document the severity and distribution of ground shaking and ground deformation, as well as the effects of inundation from the tsunami that followed the earthquake.

The earthquake resulted in the deaths of at least 50 people, injured about 1000, and left more than 2000 homeless. It caused severe damage to mountain villages, triggered mudslides that blocked highways, and tremors were felt as far away as Bolivia.

The earthquake was similar in type and size to the type of rupture that scientists believe could occur on the North Island's east coast, Dr Stirling said.

" This is because the Hikurangi subduction zone, where the Pacific tectonic plate is thrusting under the Australian plate, is similar to Peru's subduction zone - where the Nazca plate thrusts beneath the South American plate," he said.

Scientists believe that the Hikurangi subduction zone, off the east coast of the North Island, is capable of producing earthquakes ranging in size between magnitude 7.5 and 8.3.

" The physical damage in Peru has a number of similarities with what we would expect if a large earthquake occurred beneath the seafloor off the North Island's east coast."

The Peruvian earthquake was centred under the sea 175km west of Arequipa, Peru's second-biggest city. Ground deformation during the earthquake caused Arequipa to move one metre closer to the sea.

The Earthquake Commission is funding the visit and on their return the scientists will present their findings at a public meeting in Wellington. They are scheduled to return to New Zealand in two weeks.


John Callan
Communications Manager
Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited
Ph: 04-570-1444 (w)