High winds topple Strand sculpture

By Genevieve Helliwell

Central Tauranga came to a standstill when a $200,000 18m-high stainless steel sculpture sheered off its foundation, smashed through a fence and blocked the railway tracks at The Strand.

The waka sail sculpture broke off where it had been welded to ground and crashed over the railway line, away from the busy road and parked cars.

It was one of two stainless steel sculptures erected on the grass area, across from Hamilton St in downtown Tauranga.

The area was buzzing when the sculpture fell to the ground, about 1pm yesterday.<inline type="photogallery" id="14548" align="outside" embed="no" />

Tauranga City Council team manager for city parks Steve Webb said strong winds were thought to be what caused the structure to bend and break. "We're getting an engineering report done to work out what caused this," he said.

"I don't believe it was hit by anything, I think it was the wind that caused this and once a structural assessment has been done, then we'll be in a better position to work out what to do."

The two metal sculptures were installed in 2004 to celebrate Matariki.

Mr Webb said something had gone wrong, as the sculptures were expected to remain intact for many more years.

A KiwiRail representative said the accident did not cause any damage to the track or train services.

"We were informed about it but there were no delays caused by this to any trains," she said.

"There were no trains scheduled for that time and now it has been removed and everything is back to normal."

Mr Webb said it was fortunate the sculpture did not fall the other direction and smash into any parked cars or injure any pedestrians.

"It would have made a terrible mess if it had hit anyone so it's very lucky because it could have been a lot worse," he said.

The broken sculpture was removed off the train tracks by a Todd and Pollock crane. A witness said the sail was stuck more than a metre into the ground and the crane staff had to use more than three tonnes of force to remove it.

"It's sheered off at the base. It's fallen to the ground. It's been welded to the ground but where it was welded, it's sheered off in a clean snap," the witness said.

Meanwhile, the second structure was inspected this afternoon and it also showed signs of fatigue near the base, Mr Webb said.

For safety reasons, the second sculpture was also removed, he said.

Initially, there were plans for five sculptures, however, only two had been installed.

Mr Webb wasn't sure if the structures would be replaced.

"Something isn't right for this to have happened and until we know what's happened and why it's happened, it's hard to say where we will go from here."

The strongest wind gust recorded by MetService at Tauranga Airport was about 68km/h between 8am-9am yesterday.

Duty forecaster John Law said it had been a blustery day in Tauranga with strong winds blowing flowing in the south-westerly direction, however, it wasn't as windy as other regions.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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