29 Jun 2009

Waihi village residents evacuate due to landslip threat

10:35 pm on 29 June 2009

All 50 residents of Waihi village on the southern shore of Lake Taupo voluntarily evacuated their homes on Monday due to a risk of landslides following a swarm of earthquakes.

The geothermal area around Turangi in the central North Island has been hit by several hundred shallow earthquakes in recent weeks.

Waihi village was closed on Monday evening. A state of emergency in the area has been declared to allow Civil Defence to protect property in the village and stop unwanted people from entering.

Civil Defence says the situation will be reassessed constantly, but it is unlikely people will be allowed back into their homes until at least Friday.

State Highway 41 between Tokaanu and Pukawa has been closed overnight on Monday as a precaution.

Civil Defence incident controller Shamus Howard says the voluntary evacuation is a proactive conservative approach as increased seismic activity, geothermal steam and rain all increase the risk of landslides.

An aerial check of the area on Monday showed little erosion and no sign of water damming up above the hills of Waihi village. Taupo District Council is using land monitoring devices to gauge any movement above the village.

Earthquake scientist Brad Scott says quakes in the area are common and rates any direct risk to Waihi village as relatively low. He says the intensity of the swarm is decreasing.

Area prone to landslides

Waihi was the site of three devastating landslides in 1780, 1846 and 1910, which claimed more than 200 lives.

For years, rock fall from a steep slope above Waihi has been identified as a risk to homes at the northern end of the village, as well as to the water supply.

Two tremors on Saturday were greater than magnitude four on the Richter scale. A magnitude 2.7 quake hit at 6am on Monday, while a 2.8-magnitude quake was recorded at 8.37pm.