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Natural hazards where you live

New Zealand is a place where we all live with some kind of natural hazard risk. It’s a good idea to understand what natural hazards could affect the area you live in and how you can reduce the risk of damage to your property. 

Landslips and earthquakes can happen almost anywhere and low-lying areas are at risk of tsunami. The North Island has several volcanoes, and in some regions there’s hydrothermal activity. 

The Earthquake Commission Act automatically gives some cover for your home, contents and land from these natural disasters, if you have private insurance (that includes fire insurance). We also cover damage to land from floods and storms. 

What you’re covered for explains how EQCover works for your home, contents and land.

Landslips

Landslips are one of the most common natural hazards to affect New Zealand homes and properties.

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A landslip may be triggered by heavy rain or earthquakes, with homes near hills or steep slopes most at risk. If you live near a hill or steep slope, watch out for cracks or movement that could be a warning sign. 

Make sure any retaining walls are well maintained, and look around to see if neighbouring retaining walls or slopes could affect your property.  

Slopes and retaining walls has more information. 

Tips – New Zealand landslip damage

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Floods

Homes in low-lying areas near waterways are generally more at risk of floods.
Buildings with low floor levels are more likely to be flooded in these areas.

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Ask your local council for a flood plain map to see if you’re living in or near a flood-risk area.  

EQC covers flood and storm damage on defined areas of residential land, where there’s a current private insurance policy for the home, which includes fire insurance (most do). 

Flood damage: what EQC covers

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Earthquakes

Earthquakes can happen almost anywhere in New Zealand, although some areas have a higher risk.

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These higher risk areas are above or close to where the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates meet, making earthquakes more common. See the map below.

What’s the earthquake risk for your home

Read about the tectonic setting of New Zealand on the University of Otago website. 

Every earthquake is different and unpredictable. The way the land moves during an earthquake can affect how a building performs. Even small earthquakes can damage a home, depending on the land the building sits on, as well as the building’s design and construction. 

There are steps you can take around your home to help reduce the risk of damage: 

Ask your local council whether the land around your home is susceptible to:

  • liquefaction (where liquid, sand and silt rise up from the ground)
  • lateral spread (where liquefied land pulls apart or cracks)
  • changes in level or landslips.

The Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ) has more technical information about various earthquake hazards on its Seismic Resilience webpage.

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Tsunami

The likelihood of a severe tsunami affecting New Zealand is low, but even a small tsunami can affect properties in low-lying coastal areas.

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Some councils use blue lines on roads to mark how far a large tsunami may reach. 

Ask your local council or Civil Defence Emergency Management Office to find out about tsunami risk zones in your area.

The GNS Science website has more about tsunami and their effects.

Quick fact - coastal homes

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Volcanoes

The North Island is an active volcanic region, and while eruptions (and the earthquakes that often come before them) are rare, we can’t predict them.

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Homes can be damaged by falling ash, lahar (mudflows), pyroclastic flows (a flowing mass of hot gas and rock), landslips and fire. 

Homes near an active volcano are most likely to be damaged but the wind can spread ash for large distances, causing damage to homes well away from the volcano.

The GNS Science website has information about how to deal with ashfall.

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Hydrothermal activity

Most of New Zealand’s hydrothermal activity – hot water below the Earth’s crust – happens in the Taupo volcanic zone, from White Island to Mt Ruapehu.

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This puts homes and land in those areas at risk from hydrothermal eruptions, ground subsidence and gas emissions. 

If you see signs of hydrothermal activity, contact your local council. 

Warning signs include:

  • patches of dying grass 
  • unusually warm or cracked hard surfaces, such as paths and driveways
  • holes or steam from the ground
  • hot surface water or groundwater.

Ask your local council for information about the likelihood of hydrothermal activity in your area.

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What’s in your area?

  • Regularly check around your property for cracks or movement in slopes and retaining walls.
  • Do what you can to reduce the risk of damage to your home from earthquakes.
  • Are you in a flood risk area? Ask your local council.

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