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Inside the earthquake-hit stadium

By Derek Cheng, Jarrod Booker, Isaac Davison

Silt sits underneath the PKMC stand at AMI Stadium. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Silt sits underneath the PKMC stand at AMI Stadium. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The playing surface is rippled and bulging with patches of sludge. Concrete structures are cracked and dislodged. Silt is piled thick beneath the stands and outside.

This is the grim picture at Christchurch's earthquake-damaged AMI Stadium, where the schedule to host quarter-finals and pool matches in the Rugby World Cup is in real doubt.

It is expected that by the end of the week engineering reports will show whether the venue can be repaired in time for the games.

But the final decision will be made by the International Rugby Board.

The English rugby team is preparing to scout for a new base should Christchurch lose its hosting rights. But Canterbury tourism bosses say that if the stadium is passed fit for the tournament, the region will find a way to cope with the influx of overseas visitors, and that could mean calling on cruise ships for floating accommodation.

The stadium has been off-limits to the media and public since the quake, but yesterday the Herald used a crane to get a view overlooking the ground.

From the air, a 2m-wide lump can be seen near the northern end of the playing surface, as well as ripples in the turf and signs of liquefaction at the edges of the field. Grey sludge has seeped out from the turf in a 3m patch in front of the Deans Stand.

A stairwell and walkway leading to the Deans Stand is dislodged at one end, its concrete base cracked and metal covering broken. A 20m crack runs up the side of the Hadlee Stand, which is scarred where concrete has fallen away. The ground's seating appears undisturbed.

Silt is piled up under the stands, particularly on the northern side. The streets around the stadium, in particular Stevens Rd, are riddled with bumps - it is almost impossible to drive at more than 30km/h.

A woman who was in the stadium when the quake struck described movement of the whole Deans Stand and lighting structures falling from the ceiling.

Within minutes, she and others were ushered outside and led down concrete ramps to ground level. The woman noticed "major cracks" in the ramps on the way out, in particular where the ramp joined to the stand. She said the cracks might have been about 5cm deep. Outside, when a large aftershock hit, she could hear the whole stadium shake.

Vbase, which manages the stadium, says there was a lot of speculation, the only thing that counted would be the facts produced by a range of "consultant reviews". This includes assessments by structural engineers and geotechnical engineers, as well as the use of specialist turf equipment "to virtually x-ray the turf".

Chief executive Bryan Pearson said preliminary assessments were that the structural damage to the stadium was repairable. But the extent of work required was not yet known.

"It could be minor repairs, or much more extensive repairs, or a full renovation," he said.

Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully had visited the ground, and noted parts of the ground where there was a "bulge in the playing surface of some significance".

Some of the ground had yet to be assessed, and Mr McCully said he was expecting further updates tomorrow.

"We're operating on the basis that, if it can happen, we'll make it happen. We're waiting to see if the stadium is able to be made ready for the hosting of the games, and then we'll look at the other issues associated with Christchurch's capacity to accommodate people and provide the appropriate infrastructure. [But] none of this works without a stadium."

Mr McCully said the IRB was being "enormously supportive" as assessments were being made.

"We want to try to give our best shot to hosting the games in Christchurch ... and I'm pleased with the scope the IRB has given us to put that case."

Opposition leader Phil Goff said he hoped the games could stay in Christchurch, but he had spoken to many people who had said it would be a real challenge to have the city ready in time.

- additional reporting by Derek Cheng

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DOWN, BUT CERTAINLY NOT OUT

Half of Christchurch's 13,700 hotel and accommodation beds are out of action but tourism bosses are confident hosting World Cup games is still "potentially doable".

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said it would also depend on if the AMI Stadium was up to scratch.

The biggest unknown was the state of the big hotels in the cordoned-off central city.

"If we have three or four more hotels online in the next few months, we would be in much better shape."

Accommodation alternatives such as cruise ships anchored off Canterbury during the World Cup needed to be explored, Mr Hunter said.

Matt Taplin, vice-president of operations for Millennium and Copthorne Hotels, said no access had been allowed to any of the chain's three hotels in central Christchurch.

Yesterday, an English RFU spokesman said the England camp would look at available facilities elsewhere if Christchurch was declared off-limits, rather than simply accepting accommodation and training locations tournament organisers reserved for them.

- NZ Herald

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