Queenstown’s quake-up call

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Winter Festival director Simon Green, who coordinated sandbagging, says Orchiston’s conclusions don’t ring true. “The response to the flood threat was a perfect example – if that’s the turnout we get when something doesn’t eventuate, then if civil emergency did happen we’d punch well above our weight,” he says. 

Scientists consider a 7.8-8 magnitude rupture of the 450km-long Alpine Fault from Milford Sound to Springs Junction – which last occurred in 1717 – is overdue.

 Orchiston says: “They reckon there’s a 50 per cent chance over the next 50 years, but that’s just as likely tomorrow as in 20 years’ time.”

Queenstown is 90km from the Alpine Fault so less vulnerable than Milford Sound, Mt Cook and West Coast towns, she notes.

“But Queenstown still needs to be prepared for a significant disruption to normal daily life.” Business owners should get good continuity insurance and educate staff on earthquake risk and preparedness.

Queenstown is ill-prepared for an inevitable major earthquake, a new study concludes.

Wakatipu residents are also the least worried about associated risks and less likely to help their neighbours when the big one hits than elsewhere in the south.

Otago University postgraduate student Caroline Orchiston reaches the conclusions in her thesis on the potential impact of an Alpine Fault earthquake on New Zealand tourism.

Orchiston, who graduates with a PhD in Dunedin on Saturday, surveyed about 540 southern tourism operators – 230 in Queenstown – about their readiness for a big quake.

“Queenstown probably scored the poorest,” she says. “People were less likely to say they’d help their neighbours out if there was a big disaster.”

Orchiston says because Queenstown has a high migrant workforce and fast population growth, “it reduces community cohesion”.

“What that really says is it’s quite a significant challenge for people like Civil Defence and other community groups to motivate and inform people about getting disaster-prepared.”

Her findings are at odds with the community’s rapid response to the flood threat that came close to engulfing downtown Queenstown in May. Back then, all manner of volunteers from landlords to bar staff got busy filling sandbags to help retailers blockade their store fronts.