Better planning needed in rebuild of Japan's coast

17 August 2012

Poor planning, inadequate engineering and ineffective evacuation plans were some of the reasons 20,000 people perished in last year's Japanese tsunami, UC research has found.

Better planning needed in rebuild of Japan's coast - Imported from Legacy News system

Dr Christopher Gomez with some of the images from his visit to Japan after the 2011 tsunami disaster.

Poor original planning, inadequate engineering and ineffective evacuation plans were some of the reasons for 20,000 people perishing in last year’s Japanese tsunami, a University of Canterbury lecturer and tsunami researcher Dr Christopher Gomez has found.

Dr Gomez said having assembly areas at schools located by the coast, ill-conceived protection walls and an inadequate evacuation plan that did not take into account the ageing population contributed to the disaster.

Dr Gomez will outline his study and visit to Japan after the tragedy at an Australasian natural hazards management conference being held at the University of Canterbury next week.

In March last year a magnitude 9.0 under sea earthquake resulted in a series of tsunami waves which subsequently reached up to 40 metres above sea level on the coast of Miyagi Prefecture. More than 720,000 buildings were impacted by the tsunami, with 109,862 buildings demolished, 127,100 buildings partially destroyed and more than 480,270 buildings severely damaged.

Dr Gomez said there was a feeling of over-confidence in the engineered structures to protect coastal cities.

"There needs to be better city planning, with roads not converging towards a tsunami threat. In villages the main escape roads followed the river, which the tsunami followed as well. Schools and evacuation grounds should not be rebuilt on the sea-front. There should be a better approach to natural hazards and have an evolving safety plan.

"I have been working on the big 2004 Asian tsunami disaster and have been living in Japan for six years, and currently am working on several different projects in collaboration with Japanese universities.

"I visited some of the worst hit areas, such as Kamaishi and Ofunato, last year and will be going back again this year for almost three months to work on various projects. Almost 18 months after the disaster there, more than 300,000 people still live in temporary shelter. Many of the elderly residents drowned in their own houses, being unable to evacuate as planned."

Dr Gomez said there were a lot of lessons New Zealand needed to learn from the events in Japan if they did not want to be confronted with similar problems. 

Meanwhile, with a researcher and four UC students, he will visit and study Indonesia’s Mt Merapi, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, for three weeks from 15 October.

"This research improves knowledge of our own volcanoes that we have on our doorstep (in the North Island) as they are very similar. This visit demonstrates that UC is an internationally renowned university in this field and as researchers we get invited around the world to help solve these issues," he said.


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