Tough outlook for earthquaked towns

The towns worst affected by this week’s earthquakes are having to deal with massive problems with damaged houses and wrecked infrastructure.

One of the biggest problems facing their recovery will be business, and that is affected substantially by inaccessibility due to wrecked roads, especially in Kaikoura.

Getting good access from the south will be difficult enough (a rough inland road for emergency access only has been opened) but getting a through road will be a major challenge.

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One of a number of landslides blocking the Kaikoura coast road.

RNZ: Kaikoura fears becoming a ghost town if State Highway 1 ‘lifeline’ stays closed

Kaikoura business owners say the town could die once the relief runs out, and only reopening State Highway One will save it.

SH1, the main route to Kaikoura from the north and south, is closed. It sustained significant damage, with cracks, fissures and landslides. The New Zealand Transport Agency said restoring full access would take several months.

Damage to sea life, the fisheries industry and wildlife will affect the town’s biggest tourists attractions, such as whale watching, dolphin encounters and the seal colony.

Kaikoura will be badly affected without tourism. They are certain to lose this summer’s trade.

Dwayne Fussell owns Coastal Sports. He has lived in the town for 15 years and is raising a family.

The town’s businesses were seasonal. They made money over summer and struggled through winter, he said.

“If you don’t make that [money] through the December, January months, you’re not here the following summer.

Only reopening SH1 would bring the visitors back, he said. If the tourists stayed away, the businesses would disappear.

“SH1 is our lifeline. We need it,” he said.

Unless the main highway is reopened right up the coast to allow through traffic – and months to repair it looks very optimistic – then Kaikoura is in trouble.

Even when the highway is reinstated they will require costly repairs and re-establishment of facilities. Some of the coastal fisheries and wildlife will have been badly affected by the earthquake, but it is unknown at this stage how the big draw cards, the dolphins and especially the whales will have been affected.

And even with facilities and roads restored they will have to overcome fears and a reluctance of tourists to venture down a very risky looking coastline.

Hamner Springs is another town reliant on tourism. Even though they weren’t far from the first earthquake epicentre the town was remarkably unscathed and has reopened for business, but through a combination of fear of more earthquakes and a lack of coastal through traffic they are suffering.

Newshub: Hanmer Springs a ‘ghost town’ – business owners

Hanmer Springs businesses are desperate for tourists to visit after a large drop in numbers following Monday’s 7.8 magnitude quake.

The quake was centred about 25km southeast of Hanmer Springs, but despite its proximity, the village suffered very little damage.

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa general manager Graeme Abbott says there’s been a noticeable drop in visitors.

On a “normal day”, he would expect between 500-600 visitors, but on Tuesday he only had around 150.

“It’s gradually climbing up but still nowhere near what we would usually expect,” Mr Abbott says.

“The reality is we had a major earthquake here and power outages and road closures so people couldn’t get here, but that’s all cleared up now.”

Mr Abbott says there is no need for people to stay away from Hanmer Springs.

“The village is undamaged. All the businesses are open.”

In time it mightn’t be so bad for Hamner as the detour south runs near them – in fact it might improve things for them as tourism flows pick up.

But Kaikoura especially, and other towns and regions on the coastal route like Cheviot and the Waipara wine region to the south will find business tough for a year or two at least.

To the north some Marlborough vineyards and wineries were damaged by the earthquakes, and the Picton to Christchurch detour route that goes nearly to the West Coast and back across Lewis Pass, bypasses Blenheim so they are also likely to be affected there.

It’s interesting to see Google Maps and the AA Route Finder showing the detour rather than the munted coast road already. The detour extends the normal 350 kilometre trip to 480 km, and obviously misses all the coastal scenery.

Other regions will probably benefit, but the affected towns and area will struggle to survive as they were.

Mass of quakes continue

When I headlined Earthquake onslaught  that was based on what had happened in the few hours since the 7.5 quake just after midnight, but things haven’t let up all day with hundreds of quakes around the top half of the South Island.

The quakes have often been in clusters alternating between Kaikoura, Seddon and North Canterbury, with a few outliers.

There have just been two more ‘severe’ shakes amongst a cluster:

  • 3.6 (light) 7:37:16 pm 25 km north-west of Cheviot
  • 3.6 (light) 7:38:13 pm 10 km east of Kaikoura
  • 3.4 (light) 7:40:54 pm 35 km south of Seddon
  • 5.6 (severe) 7:43:01 pm 25 km east of Seddon
  • 4.4 (moderate) 7:43:34 pm 15 km north-east of Methven
  • 5.7 (strong) 7:47:51 pm 25 km east of Kaikoura
  • 4.3 (strong) 7:51:58 pm 15 km east of Seddon
  • 4.5 (strong) 7:52:53 pm 20 km east of Seddon
  • 4.4 (light) 7:55:44 pm 35 km east of Kaikoura
  • 3.6 (light) 7:56:19 pm 15 km east of Levin

That’s 10 in 20 minutes. The whole area seems to have become unstable.

And the pictures being published of the roads, railway line and hills shows how unstable the area is on the surface. Huge and smaller slips have blocked roads and lines in many places. It could take weeks if not months to open state highway 1 between Picton and Christchurch reopened.

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Kaikoura is cut off due to major slips both to the north and to the south.

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There was a road and a railway line round here yesterday. And paddocks and stock have also been affected.

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There have been two deaths reported. Given the size of the quakes this is relatively low, fortunately being in the middle of the night in mostly sparsely populated areas helped minimise casualty rates.

But there are many ongoing aftershocks, quite a few fairly strong, and Geonet says there’s a 32% chance of another 7+ in the next month or two.

There have already been six quakes rated as ‘severe’ today, near Culverden, Kaikoura (3), Seddon and Cheviot. There was widespread minor-ish damage in Wellington and they ‘only’ had a 5.3.

What has happened already will have a major impact on Marlborough and North Canterbury and also further down the highway. The alternative routes by land are lengthy, via the West Coast.

And there will understandably be many worried people.

There’s enough cause for concern down here in Dunedin (where some people were woken by the big midnight shake but I haven’t felt a thing) having seem the enormous effects on Christchurch.

There will be many frazzled nerves after a day of sustained shaking in the top half of the South island and the lower North island.

UPDATE: since typing the above list and the rest of the post there has been another  ‘severe’ (5.9) and another ‘strong (5.8) quake near Seddon – they are 30 seconds apart so must just about be the same quake.