Thousands of New Zealanders could be killed if country is hit by tsunami

Disaster authorities in New Zealand have paid insufficient attention to the threat of a tsunami, a government-sponsored report said Tuesday, as it warned that more than 5,000 people could be killed by such a giant wave. "Many regions have intolerable and unacceptable levels of risk at regional level," said the report compiled by government agency GNS Science, formerly known as Geological and Nuclear Sciences.

Current warning systems provide barely enough time to issue a simple warning for a tsunami originating off the New Zealand coast, the report said. At-risk regions were also poorly prepared for a tsunami, it noted.

"The risk of multiple tsunami fatalities is high compared to other natural hazards," said the review of risk and preparedness released by Civil Defense Minister Rick Barker.

While a serious earthquake on a geological fault line bisecting the capital, Wellington, was expected to kill about 1,000 people, a one-in-500-year tsunami would kill over 5,000 people, the report predicted. "Tsunami risk has not been paid sufficient attention," the report said. The report was commissioned after last year's catastrophic Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami, which was triggered by an undersea quake off the cost of Indonesia.

New Zealand, sitting above the edge of two tectonic plates, records more than 14,000 earthquakes each year. Only about 150 are felt by residents and fewer than 10 do any damage, reports the AP. I.L.

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