Quake victim's sister feared for safety

By Anna Turner of the Star

Earthquake survivor Amy Cooney's brother died in last year's Christchurch quake. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Earthquake survivor Amy Cooney's brother died in last year's Christchurch quake. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A woman who held her brother's hand as he died in the rubble of the collapsed Iconic Bar on February 22 had been worried the building would "implode" in another earthquake.

Amy Cooney gave evidence today at the hearing into the collapse of The Iconic Bar on Manchester St, which killed her brother Jaime Gilbert.

The siblings were both working at the bar on February 22. Mr Gilbert, 22, a barman and father of two, had only begun working full time at the bar the day before. The pair tried to flee the bar as the violent quake struck but were trapped by falling debris outside the building.

Ms Cooney was knocked out, but when she came to she was holding her brother's hand as they lay trapped. Rescuers eventually managed to drag the pair out of the rubble and Mr Gilbert was rushed to Christchurch Hospital but could not be revived and was soon pronounced dead.

Ms Cooney had been deeply concerned about the safety of the building following the 2010 earthquakes - particularly in the upstairs corner where her office had been situated.

"I just assumed that [in another quake] that corner would fall in and there would be a domino effect throughout the rest of the building. I felt it would just implode. And that end corner did fall. If I had been in my office I would be dead too."

Speaking to The Star today, Ms Cooney said she was hoping the inquiry would provide her with some closure. But most of the evidence had not done that.

"There are questions that I would like answered, but it seems to be no-one wants to stand up and have any blame put onto them. We're not looking to put blame on anybody we just want to see how the process could be improved for the future."

"No one is even willing to say how they could have done things better in hindsight, but everything can be improved in hindsight. It has been a long and gruelling day. If anything it's opened up more questions. Sometimes I doubt I'll get the answers, but it has to be done."

The building was green stickered after the September earthquake but was red stickered after the Boxing Day aftershock, when an inspection showed the east gable wall was badly damaged.

Repair works were completed on the building and engineer Simon Gifford signed off a certificate which confirmed the structural integrity of the building. The city council then allowed the building to re-open.

But Ms Cooney felt the remedial works done on the building after the Boxing Day earthquake were unsatisfactory. She thought the repairs may have been done in a rush to re-open the bar for New Year's Eve.

"I do fear that. I just hope getting money wasn't more important than someone's life."

Engineer Mark Ryburn, who visited the building on February 9 for a city council re-inspection, also had concerns about the remedial work. He wrote a note asking city council engineer Neville Higgs to"view and make a decision"about the repairs.

But the concerns raised by Mr Ryburn were never addressed. On the morning of February 22 Mr Higgs closed the file on the Iconic Bar based on the certificate signed by Mr Gifford.

A few hours after the file was closed the quake struck and the building collapsed.

- APNZ

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