Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Wellington earthquake: Capital becomes a ghost town

At Wellington's post-earthquake rush-hour, its central business district was filled only with pigeons and lonely security guards.

The city council's advice to stay away from the debris-cluttered streets proved popular with CBD workers. At 9am yesterday the city was utterly deserted with the only sound a stream of water spilling from a sprinkler system on Lambton Quay.

Taxi driver Chris Anastasiadis sat idling outside the Supreme Court for 90 minutes.

"It's like a ghost city. If it's like this tomorrow I won't bother.

"I need to make $254 before a dollar goes in my pocket. I've made $94 in my entire shift."

The city's business hub was mostly unscathed by the tremor except for Featherston St, two blocks back from the waterfront.

Windows from older buildings had fallen on to the street in large wedges during Sunday's shake, and small showers of glass continued to sprinkle on to the footpath with each aftershock.

Entire panes from the Dominion Farmers Institute building had popped out 15m above the footpath, allowing pigeons to turn its upper floors into a temporary aviary. The middle of the street was cordoned off after parts of the facade crumbled on to the footpath.

An engineer inspecting the site said that during the earthquake two buildings had begun shaking "out of time", which made them bump into each other and knock bits of concrete and glass on to a 4WD below.

Student Jatan Shah, 26, had been advised to find another place to stay until the buildings around his apartment had been declared safe.

"They said I could stay if I really wanted, but it's not worth it. There could be more quakes ... and I want to get some sleep."

On The Terrace, a couple of staff from the Bolton Hotel looked nervously skyward at a crane which had partly broken off a building it had been fixed to. The road remained blocked to traffic last night as construction workers attempted to secure the crane.

Around the corner, a river of red wine was flowing into the gutter from a bottle shop, where dozens of bottles had fallen from shelves.

On Lambton Quay, the city's premier shopping street, just one in 10 stores opened in the afternoon and many of them closed early.

Dairy owner Roger Gandhi said he thought his Featherston St shop had escaped untouched until he tripped at the doorstep. The tiled footpath at his shopfront, which is built on reclaimed land, had buckled and sunk.

"It is a little frustrating," he said. "But, well, it is not Christchurch."

What to expect

What can people in Wellington expect in the way of further quakes?

As far as this earthquake sequence goes, there is still a high probability of an M5 (magnitude 5 or more) earthquake over the next week. Also a 20 per cent probability of an M6 quake in the next week.

How likely is it the quake was the "big one" Wellingtonians have always been cautioned about?

The "big one" is an earthquake along the Wellington fault. That is a different fault than the earthquakes from this weekend. A Wellington fault earthquake will likely be about M8 - so much larger than what we had this weekend.

Is there any possibility of earthquakes in Auckland?

Auckland has much lower levels of seismic activity than many parts of NZ. However, an earthquake around M6-6.5 is not out of the question. The Canterbury Plains and Christchurch had low levels of seismic activity before September 2010.

Is it possible for these quakes to generate a tsunami?

We would likely need an earthquake bigger than M7.5 to generate a tsunami. However, in Cook Strait there are areas identified as potential landslide risk. A landslide could generate a tsunami. The tsunami could be quite devastating to the south coast of the North Island and north coast of the South Island.

- NZ Herald

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