Did the big wheels turn for you just then?

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January 4, 2013 by Doug Coutts

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Just the other day, the bustling seaside town of Opunake (you know the place, South Taranaki coast, one pub, five people, lots of empty shops) was hit by a couple of large earthquakes.  At 5 and less on the scale, they weren’t alarmingly huge – unless you live in Ireland where the largest ever registered a paltry 2.3 – but still big enough to make the headlines.

The best quote – well, the only quote since Opunakians are notoriously taciturn – went along the lines “We didn’t know what it was at first – we though a truck might have crashed into the house”.  And that would have been awful as most trucks on Taranaki roads – indeed, most vehicles – are milk tankers, and dairy products weigh a lot, both before and after consumption.

Luckily, as inspection of the house soon showed, it wasn’t a truck but a slight shift in the earth’s crust some 20 kilometres down and a bit off to the left.   Phew.

Earlier in the year, in another part of the country a sleeping couple was awoken by a loud bang.  “At first we thought it was an earthquake,” one of them told the media throng.  “But it looks like a truck has come through the spare bedroom and into the lounge.”  And indeed it was – laden with logs and driven by someone who momentarily forgot the cause-and-effect link between steering wheel and bends in the road.

This sort of thing happens quite often.  New Zealanders seem unable to tell the difference between a eighteen-wheeler attempting a hand-brake turn in the sun-porch and tectonic plates bumping and grinding in the basement.  Not until they’re presented with concrete evidence, usually resting against their bedside table.

It’s a bigger problem than you might at first think.  For example the heavily-promoted earthquake drill of drop, cover, hold doesn’t work as well in the case of attack by diesel when run, sprint, dash would seem to be a better option.

And, worse, your friendly insurance giant is less likely to pay out if you appear confused as to the cause of the total destruction of your house.  “Yes, I know there are tyre marks all over the credenza, but you did say you thought it was an earthquake.  And that spells loophole.”

There is no quick fix.  Your best options are to say nothing – to the media or State Insurance – until you are sure of the facts, and sleep in the centre of the house in a brick lined bunker, with all the ornaments down low.  And move to Ireland, where the lorries are small, the earthquakes even smaller, and where confusion is legally sanctioned.  At least until quakes are measured on the Kenworth scale.

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And still it goes on:  http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10857695
Eleanor Gardiner said about 10 people were in the pub when it was hit. She was playing pool with her daughter from Wellington who thought it was an earthquake.”

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