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Auckland quake may have contributed to rockfall death

A mother taking the family dogs for a winter walk along the beach was killed by falling rocks yesterday.

The 40-year-old woman was walking her two dogs at the base of the Rothesay Bay cliffs on Auckland’s North Shore. Rocks from the 60m sandstone face above fell and struck her in what politicians are calling a tragedy.

Auckland Council last night warned people to stay away from the cliffs, as locals told of rocks being dislodged by the 2.9-strength earthquake that had struck 16 hours earlier.

Police visited the family’s North Shore home to break the news to her husband and family. The dogs she was walking were later found uninjured.

Waitemata police communications advisor Kevin Loughlin said the woman’s family was “very upset”.

Auckland Council building control manager Ian McCormick said engineers and geotechnicians were examining the area. “The area has ongoing erosion. They recommend that people stay away from the base of the cliff as a precaution.”

After the accident, he said, engineers had placed signs in the area to warn the public.

“There are some concerns because of what’s happened.”

Residents said there had been slips in the past few months and a recent fall just hours before the accident.

Local dog owner Penny Millen said there was a fresh rock slip at the track yesterday morning, which she attributed to the previous evening’s small earthquake.

“There’s a huge big slip,” she said. “Lots of big boulders have fallen away from the cliff.”

Resident Carol Smytheman said the cliff was mostly made of sandstone and had been unstable in the past few months. “There have been a lot of pohutukawas in the area coming down this winter. We just walked round the cliff last weekend and there have been recent slips on about six occasions.”

She said she watched younger witnesses being led away from the area.

“There was a lady shepherding six young teenagers up the road and away from the beach,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day and this is a sad thing to happen.”

The area was prone to erosion, said resident and keen walker Wendy Crabb. “I’m always very tentative of walking there because rocks have fallen before,” she said.

Hibiscus and Bays local board chairwoman Julia Parfitt said the area where the woman died, about 50m away from the foreshore, was not a popular walking spot.

“It’s not an area well used by the public – most people walk along the formed coastal walkways or along the beach,” she said.

It was an unhappy day for the local community: “Our cliffs across the Auckland region weather and erode and we have had a lot of rain … there are sometimes rockfalls and I think the public has to be aware of that. Whatever has happened is extremely sad.”

North Shore councillor George Wood said it was the first time he knew of erosion in the area killing someone. “I’ve never heard of rocks causing a fatality along the cliff there but there is an element of danger,” said Wood.“Unfortunately at this time of year it’s always a possibility so people have to be careful.”

North Shore councillor Ann Hartley described the accident as “tragic”.

Warning signs will be placed along the coast this week.

– Homepage image /



Guest on 3/07/2011 5:14am

This is very sad.

Matt on 3/07/2011 2:53am

“A magnitude-2.9 earthquake rattled Auckland on Friday night but GNS seismologist Lara Bland said it was “unlikely” the earthquake had any connection to the rockfall given the relatively small shake and time lapse between the two events.”

“The sandstone cliffs are known for erosion, sending slips and rocks tumbling down. A walkway fronts Churchill Rd, at the top of the cliffs, and resident Allanah Wech said, while the walkway was safe, there was often erosion and the area was marked with fences and signs to warn people.”

weather-nut on 3/07/2011 7:33am

Also this from TV3…

“One woman told us she narrowly avoided being hit by big chunks of falling debris just recently.

Another North Shore resident George Paterson has lived in Rothesay Bay for 46 years. He is cautious of the cliff but even he has been caught out.

“You do see it regularly; I’ve been hit occasionally by a rock, about a month ago. Occasionally you hear them at night when you get a decent size fall; you hear the rocks crashing to the bottom.”

The council says it is natural erosion and doesn’t believe Friday night’s earthquake had anything to do with the slip.”

Guest on 2/07/2011 11:22pm

Very sad, my sympathies to the family.
If this dead is linked to the earthquake would that make it the first deadly quake of Auckland?
It doesn’t surprise me either that there was a rockfall even with this small shake.
The cliffs around Auckland always look very fragile.

Dee on 2/07/2011 11:45pm

It didnt happen at the time of the earthquake, the earthquake “could” have been a contibuting factor although highly unlikely. With all the rain we’ve been having slips happen all the time. Either way very sad for the family and my heart goes out to them

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