New Zealand earthquake survival

Approx read: 3 mins

This week alone, New Zealand has estimated that over 100,00 landslides have been triggered by two earthquakes  that struck just north of Christchurch that have been followed by a series of aftershocks typical of seismic activity in this area.

Things to do in New Zealand in the 2016/2017 Southern Hemisphere summer: hike, camp, water-ski, surf, sail, bungee jump, mountain climb, ride a cow, hunt some Hobbits, and, survive the earthquakes. Do you think you’re up to all of that? Well, if so, you’ve got to know what every 5-year old Kiwi will identify with on the earthquakes scene, at least.

Here is why. New Zealand’s two main islands – creatively named North and South respectively –  lie on the fault line of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.  Subsequently there are thousands of earthquakes in New Zealand every year, but most of them are not felt because they are either small or very deep within the earth. However, every year there are at least 150 – 200 earthquakes that are big enough to be noticed without seismic equipment which is why the locals refer to their nation as the Shaky Isles. What they all (and yes, this includes the little kids) know is that a large, damaging earthquake could occur at any time and can be followed by aftershocks that continue for days or weeks. And that’s the stuff they have all prepared for this week.

This week alone, New Zealand has estimated that over 100,000 landslides have been triggered by two earthquakes of 7.8 and 6.2 that struck just north of Christchurch that have been followed by a series of aftershocks typical of seismic activity in this area. Despite the size of the quakes and the 2 – 3m tsunami waves that hit some parts of New Zealand’s east coast, there were only 2 fatalities reported. Compared to the August earthquake (6.2 on the Richter scale) that killed 297 people and devastated historical villages in central Italy, the quakes have done comparatively less damage to New Zealand, so far.

Obviously, the population density in New Zealand is significantly less that Italy, and the building codes are vastly opposite in dealing with earthquakes. Every building in New Zealand constructed after 1976 would need to be designed to resist seismic movement. Much of the destruction of property and loss of life was when old stone and brick residences collapsed on occupants.

Then there are the awareness factors that also save lives. Children from primary school age are taught an earthquake survival code in their standard curriculum which is reinforced right up until they leave the education system. Earthquake codes also appear in government buildings and often in the signage in commercial buildings, particularly in cities with high density construction.

So, taking a lead from how the Kiwi’s deal with earthquakes on a regular basis, knowing what to do when the ground and all around is shaking is one way of keeping yourself safe and sound, until the next one strikes!

During an earthquake


If you are inside a building, move no more than a few steps, drop, cover and hold. Stay indoors till the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit. In most buildings in New Zealand you are safer if you stay where you are until the shaking stops.

If you are in an elevator, drop, cover and hold. When the shaking stops, try and get out at the nearest floor if you can safely do so.

If you are outdoors when the shaking starts, move no more than a few steps away from buildings, trees, streetlights, and power lines, then drop, cover and hold.

At the beach or near the coast, drop, cover and hold, then move to higher ground immediately in case a tsunami follows the quake.

If you are driving, pull over to a clear location, stop and stay there with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops. Once the shaking stops, proceed with caution and avoid bridges or ramps that might have been damaged.

If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling debris or landslides.

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An avid international traveller, surfer lover of the oceans, writer and researcher.