19 Jan 2022

New Zealanders need to understand the hazards of volcanoes here - EQC

10:59 am on 19 January 2022

New Zealanders need to understand what impacts and hazards they could face if a volcano here erupted, says the Earthquake Commission.

Mount Ruapehu

Mount Ruapehu erupted over a 13-month period in 1995/1996. Photo: 123RF

The eruption of the underwater Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano sent shockwaves throughout New Zealand, and experts are taking note incase a similar event were to occur here.

The Auckland Volcanic Field has been of particular interest in recent years but Taranaki, Ruapehu and Whakaari are also of concern.

On 9 December 2019, 22 people were killed after the Whakaari/White Island erupted with 47 people present on the island, a majority of them tourists from overseas.

Mt Ruapehu had a series of eruptions over a 13-month period in 1995/1996.

GeoNet says the last major eruption of Taranaki happened around 1854.

"I think being prepared is a really sensible thing to do in a country like New Zealand," EQC's chief resilience and research officer Jo Horrocks said.

She told Morning Report she's not sure whether people in New Zealand understand the hazards of volcanoes here.

But, she says, there are a few simple steps people can take to prepare.

Among them, people should have a simple plan and a kit at home - examples of which can be found on the government's Get Ready website.

GNS Science has advice for what to do during ash fall and lava flows on its website.

"It doesn't mean people need to be scared about the risk, it doesn't need to invade their daily life but having some simple plans and some simple kits at home can really help if you're called on to leave your home in a hurry."

New Zealand has had a number of smaller eruptions with devastating effect like Whakaari / White Island, she said.

"We haven't actually had a widespread damage causing eruption since that time, since [Ruapehu] in '95/'96 and even that one was relatively contained.

"We certainly have the volcanoes that are capable of doing that and that's really why we want to understand as much as we possibly can about the hazards and the risks we face in this country."

This is particularly important for people living in close proximity to volcanoes, like in Taranaki and Auckland, she said.

Horrocks said scientists are taking note of the lessons from Tonga's volcanic eruption.

"It's been quite a surprising eruption in Tonga... I certainly was particularly surprised about the widespread effects of the tsunami and the pressure wave that we've seen recorded around the world. I always kind of assumed that volcanic eruptions were too much of a point source to cause potential tsunamis but obviously that has happened here."

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