150 years since Chatham Islands fatal tsunami

By Regan Paranihi

Today marks 150 years since the fatal tsunami that hit the shores of the Chatham Islands. 

The tsunami, known as the Arica earthquake, was caused by a large seafloor earthquake off the coast of Peru on 14 August 1868 which travelled 15 hours across the Pacific Ocean and arrived at Chatham Island in the early hours of 15 August causing fatalities.

The tsunami stripped the land and scientists estimate the quake was between magnitude 8.5 and 9.0.

The tsunami travelled on another 800km to New Zealand and was recorded in Samoa, Hawaii, Japan, Australia, California and Oregon.

Hamish Campbell of GNZ Science says this event is significant because it was believed to be the only recorded instance of a tsunami causing deaths in New Zealand in historic times.

"In 1868 there was quite a large community living in this part of Chatham Island [Waitangi West and Tupuangi] and it was very badly affected."

Campbell adds, "Tsunami warnings are broadcast by electronic media and on social media. But there may not be time for official warnings if a tsunami is generated close to New Zealand." 

He also says the golden rule was that if people feel earthquakes lasting for a minute or longer or if they feel strong shaking that makes it hard to stand up, they should evacuate immediately inland or to higher ground.