Business owner 'felt like a burglar' after earthquake

By Susie Nordqvist

Inspectors survey the damage to the office of Cabbage Tree Creative following this month's earthquake in Christchurch.
Photo / Supplied
Inspectors survey the damage to the office of Cabbage Tree Creative following this month's earthquake in Christchurch. Photo / Supplied

A Christchurch businessman given just an hour and a half to clear his office of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment in the days following the earthquake, said he felt like he was burgling his own business.

Lawrence Smith's web agency Cabbage Tree Creative and sister company Tourism Innovation, were two of several businesses 'red-stickered' by building inspectors following this month's Canterbury earthquake.

While the building was given conditional clearance initially, a 5.1 magnitude aftershock proved the final nail in the coffin.

"We were just getting ready to bring the team the back when the aftershock struck.

"It was heartbreaking. For the most part it (the building) was relatively undamaged internally aside from some minor ceiling damage, but unfortunately the aftershock damaged the building quite a bit further."

Smith, who employs 20 staff across the two firms, had just moved the company into the early 1900s building on Moorhouse Ave when the quake struck.

Three days later and faced with the possibility the building could be consigned to the annals of history at any stage, staff made a snap decision to "swoop in" and clear the office of what they could.

"In 90 nerve-racking minutes we literally ran through the offices doing a smash and grab of as much gear as we could carry - monitors, keyboards, filing cabinets, anything portable. In the rain we loaded the trailers and cars and ferried it to our old office."

The company spent four months planning the move into the new offices.

"It was a fantastic fit-out in a marvellous old character building and basically we had 90 minutes to grab the stuff. It was a bit like burgling your own business," he said.

Staff managed to clear the building of between $50,000 and $80,000 worth of equipment, but left anything that wasn't critical to getting the businesses back up and running.

Luckily Smith has been able to negotiate a rolling monthly lease with his previous landlord for a building in the Christchurch suburb of Woolston, while a decision is made on the future of the Moorhouse Ave site.

Smith said it had been a testing and stressful time for the company, but credits technology with saving the company.

The company had systems in place so staff were able to work remotely and the business was able to continue, though not at full capacity.

"We use an ISP in Christchurch so we took the machines that we had rescued into their data centre and within an hour and a half they were hosted within the data centre and we were up and running again."

Overall the company had coped well, despite some short-term stress on staff, Smith said.

"We have been minus a lot of gear and all the financial records for the last seven years are still sitting up there. If we're not allowed back in there'll be a lot of collatoral damage, but we have a fully functioning business that we lost in some capacity last week, and at the end of the day it wasn't too bad."

"We were some of the lucky ones," he said.

Read Lawrence Smith's blog describing the battle to keep business running through the Christchurch earthquake here.

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