Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Wellington earthquake: 35 buildings damaged in CBD

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Wellington's mayor is hopeful it will be business as normal tomorrow despite 35 buildings in the CBD found to have been externally damaged by yesterday's severe earthquake.

Engineers have spent the day assessing almost 2500 buildings in central Wellington following the magnitude-6.5 quake which struck in the Cook Strait just after 5pm yesterday.

The quake, which has been followed by hundreds of aftershocks, caused widespread damage.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said most of it was minor and no structural damage had been discovered.

About 12 buildings on a section of Featherston Street were cordoned off due to concerns about falling masonry and glass.

Businesses and organisations, many of which were closed today, could reopen tomorrow and workers, who were told today to stay away, could return to the city, Ms Wade-Brown said.

But there should be some "sympathy" for people who were not feeling ready to come back into the city.

Glass and masonry were still falling from about a dozen buildings and those areas had been cordoned off, but most roads had reopened.

Three major car parking buildings in the central city were closed while they were inspected for possible structural damage. That meant a large number of motorists who regularly used these buildings should reconsider how they got to work.

Three of the four city council buildings had been cleared for use.

"The Civic Administration building, the library and the Town Hall, they're structurally fine, they're just doing some pressure testing on the sprinklers," Ms Wade-Brown said.

VOLUNTEERS

Following Christchurch's lead, some of Wellington's students had volunteered to clean up the mess.

"There's about 300-plus members on its Facebook page entitled 'Student Volunteer Army Wellington'," Ms Wade-Brown said.

TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS

Victoria University of Wellington said it would make a decision tonight on whether the university, or parts of it, would open tomorrow.

Massey University's Wellington campus also closed as a precautionary measure, to allow time to assess campus buildings. It was expected to decide this afternoon whether access to the campus tomorrow would be allowed.

Whitireia Polytechnic said all its Wellington City campuses would be closed until they were inspected for damage.

PORT

Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde said the city's port was close to being operational again.

The shake caused about five metres of reclaimed land had subsided into the sea at Thorndon Container Terminal, taking with it a large container and a large buoy.

The container had been secured but not yet removed from the sea.

"The port will be working including, I understand, the ferry services," she said.

There were also clearances being done on port buildings, which had suffered water damage.

RAIL

Rail services were back up and running to a half-hour schedule, Ms Wilde said.

"Hopefully, subject to no more big shakes, will back on its ordinary timetable tomorrow."

GOVT SUPPORT

Prime Minister John Key assured quake-hit people the Government would do its "very best" to ensure they get the support they needed.

Mr Key was still to get an update on any fiscal impact of yesterday's earthquake but said, in principle, New Zealand could afford to pay for the damage caused by another earthquake.

"There's nothing at the moment that's been advised to me that would indicate there's substantial fiscal risk to the Crown, we know that the Earthquake Commission fund really has nothing in it from the last time I looked at it," he said.

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AFTERSHOCKS

GNS Science seismologist Ken Gledhill said yesterday's quake was a "one-in-several-decade event" but only a 10th of the size of the February 2011 Canterbury quake.

Dr Gledhill said the many aftershocks still rocking the bottom of the North Island and top of the South were normal.

"This is not unusual behaviour for the Cook Strait region. It's following the pattern we would expect."

Dr Gledhill downgraded the chance of the area suffering a magnitude-6 quake within the next week to 19 per cent, down from 30 per cent this morning.

There was a 39 per cent chance the region would have a large quake in the next year, he said.

The three big earthquakes that have struck the region since Friday were all centred between 10km and 20km below the sea floor in the Cook Strait, he said.

Dr Gledhill said there had been "quite a lot" of work done on the chances of a tsunami from a quake centred in the Cook Strait and the earthquakes would have to get a lot bigger for that to happen.

INJURIES

Medical emergency services had very few callouts following the quake, but emergency services are bracing in case another large one hits.

There have been four reports of people needing medical care following the 6.5 tremor, but no serious injuries were suffered.

Wellington Free Ambulance (WFA) spokesman Daniel Paul said one person was injured when a television fell on them, another was shaken out of bed and a couple more suffered anxiety chest pains.

EXTRA SEISMIC INSTRUMENTS IN MARLBOROUGH

Scientists are deploying extra seismic instruments in Marlborough to enable more accurate measurement of the aftershocks off the coast of Seddon.

They will deploy nine instruments in coastal Marlborough over the next few days to boost the quality and quantity of data being recorded by the existing national network of instruments.

The battery-powered instruments, owned and operated by GeoNet which is funded by EQC, will be left to record for at least two weeks before the data is retrieved and analysed.

"The more accurate data will help in understanding the ruptures that are occurring and how they are linked to nearby faults off the coast of eastern Marlborough," said seismologist Stephen Bannister of GNS Science.

It was unclear if the earthquakes were occurring on a known fault or if they were occurring on an, as yet, unidentified fault, Dr Bannister said.

By the end of this week, seismologists expect to have a clear understanding of the size and geometry of the fault that ruptured on Sunday. This will then indicate the level of stress change that has occurred on neighbouring faults - those within a 15km radius of yesterday's epicentre.

The faults in Cook Strait have been well mapped by Niwa.

In 2008 Niwa prepared a 36-page report on Cook Strait faults as part of the multi-agency It's Our Fault project. It shows a busy network of faults on the seabed.

There was a small possibility that some of the faults in this region could pose a tsunami threat, so scientists today issued a reminder that if people near the coast felt strong earthquake shaking for 30 seconds or longer, they should move to higher ground.

Seismic engineers are poring over data recorded from networks of instruments installed in Wellington buildings.

The instruments were installed over the past few years, and yesterday's magnitude-6.5 quake was their first major test.

Each of the six structures has instruments placed at different levels to record how various parts of buildings perform during earthquakes. The project jointly involves GNS Science, EQC, the Department of Building and Housing, structural engineering agencies, and university engineering schools. Knowledge gained from the recorded data will help to ensure that design standards of modern buildings can cope with the stresses imposed by strong earthquake-shaking. The buildings are the BNZ building, Wellington Hospital, the Majestic Centre, a high-rise accommodation hall at Victoria University, and the Thorndon flyover.

SPCA

Chief inspector of SPCA Wellington, Ritchie Dawson, said there hadn't been in influx of animals in trouble and the animals at its Newtown premises had been undisturbed by the earthquake and the series of aftershocks.

"The best thing owners of animals can do is microchip their animals - then their details are placed on a database and once their animal goes missing it can be scanned at a local vet or at the SPCA.

"Those microchip numbers are then entered into the database and we're able to contact the owners and get the animal back to them.

"It means the animal comes in and it goes back nice and easily and quickly," Mr Dawson said.

He said if people had lost their animals the best thing was to list that they are missing on this website.

"We refer people that find animals to the website."

Mr Dawson said he had gone to Christchurch after the February, 2011 earthquake to help SPCA and said it was a different kettle of fish.

"The earthquake was devastating down there - there were animals everywhere.

"People were evacuated and their neighbours were seeing their animals coming back - it would be a matter of assisting neighbours and giving them food so they could care for the animals there, rather than scooping up all these animals and putting them into a foreign spot where we just did not have the space anyway."

- Additional reporting Kate Shuttleworth, Audrey Young

- APNZ

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