Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

CTV hearing wraps up with tribute

The remains of the collapsed CTV building Photo / Geoff Sloan
The remains of the collapsed CTV building Photo / Geoff Sloan

The 115 victims of the CTV Building's catastrophic collapse have been remembered in an emotional conclusion to the royal commission hearing into the disaster.

Marwa Alkaisi, whose mother Dr Maysoon Abbas died while working at The Clinic inside the building, closed the commission today after eight weeks of gripping, intensive and often explosive evidence.

The Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission is trying to establish why the six-storey Christchurch office block failed so completely in the magnitude-6.3 earthquake on February 22, 2011.

Ms Alkaisi told how she spent four hours walking through the chaotic streets of Christchurch after the massive tremor struck at 12.51pm.

It took eight "painful" days before she learnt of her mother's fate, which would rip her family apart.

"I think about mum every day,'' she said.

"That building took my mother and my best friend. The once cheerful father I have grown up to know (has) disappeared. My sisters cry in hurt every day.''

She welcomed the royal commission's efforts in seeking answers to her family's questions.

"Why was it the only building in Christchurch to completely pancake and take away our mother from us? Yes, there was a big earthquake, but all of Christchurch experienced this, not just the CTV Building.''

Counsel assisting the commission Marcus Elliott earlier spoke on behalf of bereaved families and the injured.

He said that before February last year the Madras St structure was an "unremarkable building'', no different to hundreds of others in downtown Christchurch.

But it was reduced to an unrecognisable pile of twisted steel and concrete after its "pancake'' collapse.

"In New Zealand we don't expect a building to collapse in that way,'' he said.

Mr Elliott said ductility, the ability to withstand vigorous shaking, was incorporated into building standards only in the 1970s, which may have been why most modern buildings withstood the quake.

"Of course, only one did not,'' Mr Elliott said, adding it was the "most complete and utter failure'' of any Christchurch building, even considering century old unreinforced masonry buildings.

"One of the most fundamental questions families could have is, 'How could this happen?','' he said.

While Christchurch looks to the future and reconstruction, many people still wake up every morning "desperate'' for answers, he said.

Mr Elliott said the families agreed with the closing submission of Stephen Mills QC, counsel assisting the commission, that blame must lay with the building's designers, especially Dr Alan Reay of Alan Reay Consultants Ltd and his lead engineer, David Harding.

But he also highlighted serious concerns over its construction, failure to meet building code standards, a 1991 retrofit to strengthen identified weaknesses, and how it became green-stickered after the September 4, 2010 shake.

"In a sense, it is not surprising that the CTV Building failed so completely when ones considers its history,'' he said.

"At almost every important stage, there seems to have been a mistake or lack of care, an oversight, or an unfortunate twist.''

Mr Elliott then paid tribute to each of the 115 dead, giving snippets of their lives cut short by the tragedy.

One of the youngest was Zhong Yantao, a midwife from China who was studying English.

"Her husband described her as 'an angel in white'. Her daughter Lily was five when her mother died,'' a clearly emotional Mr Elliott said.

Another English student, Filipino nurse Mary Amantillo, survived the initial collapse, and texted her mother to say, "Ma, I got buried", and then, "Ma, I can't move my right hand". She later died, along with friend Valquin Bensurto.

He signed off his final submission by paying tribute to Tetaki 'Wally' Tairakena, an English teacher at King's Education on level 4 of the CTV Building, by reading his favourite quote: "He aha te mea nui o tea o? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! What is the most important thing in the world? The people! The people! The people!''

Commission chairman Justice Mark Cooper acknowledged the bereaved families and recognised how painful it must have been for them.

"We have much to consider,'' he said before retiring.

The commission has until November 12 to deliver its final report.


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