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OPINION: Feelings of sympathy and empathy can’t be overstated this week.

Like me, you might have been glued to the telly, open-mouthed, watching footage of smashed houses, ripped-up roads and strange islands emerging covered in paua or cows.

New Zealand’s being punished, it seems.

Far beneath our feet, the country coils like some sort of gigantic spring between two tectonic plates and then suddenly splits apart, sending out huge and horrifying shock waves.

Already quake victims are discovering life involving no power, bottled water and chemical toilets.

The gun-metal grey of military helicopters and ships, as well as camo-wearing army soldiers, are becoming a common sight.

All they can see in the weeks and months ahead is uncertainty.

But we’re desensitised down here, right? It hasn’t happened to me. Even worse, some might think it won’t happen to me.

Living in Queenstown that’s the worst head-in-the-sand thinking.

In Wednesday’s Otago Daily Times, regional council chairman Stephen Woodhead warned Queenstowners to look at Kaikoura and think that they could be next.

It’s good advice.

Monday’s quake had a rupture length of about 100km.

The Alpine Fault, not far to the west of Queenstown, might rupture up to 400km, unleashing massive shaking for two minutes.

Scientists calculate the “mean” interval between large quakes on the fault was 330 years. The last big one was in 1717. We’re close, then.

Scientists reckon there’s a 30 per cent chance of a large quake on the Alpine Fault in the next 50 years.

That stat might not sound too bad.

But if someone said you’ve got a 30 per cent chance of having a fatal smash while driving home you’d probably take the bus.

In 2007, a top Canterbury University scientist, speaking in Queenstown, painted a nightmare scenario of an Alpine Fault quake.

Tim Davies predicts “significant” building damage in the resort and countless landslides.

Landslide dams will cause flash flooding in rivers and rock avalanches might cause tsunami in lakes – picture Cecil Peak crumbling into Lake Wakatipu, sending a wall of water towards town.

There’ll be uncontrollable fires. Bridges will fail and rivers and streams will become impassable.

Major highways will be cut off for more than a month.

It’ll take weeks to set up emergency medical facilities and rescue all people trapped roads.

There’ll be an “immediate shutdown” of South Island power generation and all communication, including mobile phones, might go down.

It’s a hellish picture – it should also be a great motivator.

Davies suggests carrying supplies when we travel and having a safe, secure stockpile at home. It’ll be helpful to have construction and weather-proofing materials on hand.

“You will never forget this experience,” Davies concludes, adding: “It may be the most frightening thing ever for you, so prepare to live to tell the story to others.”

Right now, let’s show the quake-affected people north of Christchurch that we care. But then we must prepare for when it happens here.

david@scene.co.nz