'They've had enough' - families leave Kawerau after earthquakes

By Contributor
This image shows the depth and size of earthquakes in the Kawerau area between Friday and Sunday.  Source / GNS Science

By Diane McCarthy - Local Democracy Reporting 

Kawerau Mayor Faylene Tunui described Saturday as “a rough day” and, with continuing shallow earthquakes still rocking the area, some residents have left town.

“Saturday was a really long day and it wore a lot of people down,” Tunui said. “People have just had a gutsful. They’re talking about leaving.”

Mothers with small children, in particular, had already left the district to stay with friends and family.

"They’ve had enough,” she said. “Some got out today, some got out on Saturday. They’d had enough by the end of the morning.”

Just before the Whakatāne Beacon spoke to her on Monday afternoon, there were two or three more shakes, in quick succession.

“While they might be short in duration, it’s just the fact that they’re still happening. That starts to wear fairly thin with people.”

Tunui said Saturday began for her at around 3.30am when she was woken by a 3.4 magnitude quake.

Kawerau Mayor Faylene Tunui asked locals not to ignore barriers put in place for safety, such as this one at the walkway in Monika Lanham Reserve.  Troy Baker / Whakatāne Beacon / LDR

She later visited those worst affected.

“I spent the bigger part of the weekend just going out into the residential areas, just having conversations.”

She said it was difficult to reassure people when there was no way of knowing when the next shake might come.

“People have said to me, ‘Faylene, when is this going to end?’ It’s very difficult to give people a sense of comfort when you really don’t know. If I knew how to turn it off, I would never have let it be switched on in the first place.

“I just tell them, ‘I’m not an engineer, I’m not a builder, I’m not a plumber, I’m not any of those things but I’m part of a larger network that can connect you up or direct you’.”

She said there had been a range of different responses to the earthquakes, with some being well prepared and not too worried, many of the older generation having been in the area during the 1987 earthquake.

Stock at Super Liquor Kawerau was shaken off the shelves in the earthquake on Saturday.  Photo / Supplied

"It’s different for different folks. There was a granny who was like, ‘oh Fay, until they hit five or six … this is child’s play, we lived through a 6.5’.

“She didn’t actually have any wall hangings on her wall since the ‘87 for that reason. She had the Blu-Tack under ornaments and whatever else. That’s historical knowledge.”

During the 1987 quake, the risk of a chlorine leak from the paper mill had been the biggest concern for the town and people had been told to evacuate to higher ground.

Tunui said some of “the ‘87ers” had wanted to head for higher ground on Saturday, however, chlorine was no longer a hazard because that storage facility was no longer there. Current advice was for people to stay in their homes as long as they were safe.

Several slips and cracks had appeared around town and the council had put barriers up in places where there were concerns about safety. These include the Stoneham walk along the river edge and the walkway on Monika Lanham Reserve.

Tunui said some people had taken these barriers as an invitation to go over, through or around them, moving them out of the way in some cases.

“Please don’t go up there until we can get in and really get someone to assess them,” she said. “Let’s put safety first and not go into those areas right at this time.”

Tunui said, on the whole, people had been reasonable about the fact that it was a natural event.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air