Christchurch earthquake: Damage thwarts hotel search

By Hamish Fletcher, Chip Le Grand

The Hotel Grand Chancellor is very unstable. Photo / Greg Bowker
The Hotel Grand Chancellor is very unstable. Photo / Greg Bowker

Rescuers made it inside the severely damaged Hotel Grand Chancellor yesterday but were unable to get past the fifth floor.

Engineers have managed to shore up the collapsing south-east corner of the building, which has been sitting crookedly on a 2-degree lean since the earthquake last Tuesday.

However, no decision has been made on whether it will remain standing or be torn down.

Despite its appearance, Christchurch City Council's building evaluation manager Steve McCarthy said the hotel's main structure was stable and had not moved since last Wednesday.

Work began on Monday to strengthen the damaged lobby wall with concrete and support pillars.

Engineers used steel and concrete to reinforce the damaged columns on the upper floors before sending in rescue teams, which are not expected to find any survivors.

The prospect of salvaging the building will not be known until engineers can do a level two damage assessment, which involves a detailed inspection from within the hotel. Any final decision will come down to competing concerns of the owners, their insurers, the city and the public interest in re-opening Christchurch to business as quickly as possible.

"Demolishing the hotel brings its own set of problems," as one engineer said on Monday. "You can't just push 13,000 tonnes around. [If you do] you are going to destroy blocks of buildings that might have survived the quake."

Although the hotel is still being assessed, Mr McCarthy does not believe it can stay up.

"I wouldn't like to make judgment too early, but at this point it probably won't be able to be saved," he said.

Any strengthening work done by the council will also be unable to fix the building's crooked lean, he said.

The hotel's owner, Frank Delli Cicchi, said the "overwhelming consensus" was the building would need to be demolished.

"Most of the engineers from the Earthquake Commission and Civil Defence are of the opinion it will have to come down," he said.

Mr Delli Cicchi said the hotel's own engineers might be able to begin their inspection today. But even if the building could be saved, it was now famous for having been crippled in an earthquake and Mr Delli Cicchi was not sure whether guests would want to stay.

"I have seen some reports about relocating the CBD, and not having a high rise in the CBD," Mr Delli Cicchi said. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we go down that track, whether we will be able to rebuild a tower or whether it has to be low rise."

- NZ Herald

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