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Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Extent of earthquake damage to central Wellington buildings continues to emerge

A growing number of buildings in central Wellington are deserted as the full extent of quake damage in the capital begins to emerge.

An apartment block, a large office tower, the Defence Force headquarters, and the home of New Zealand's spy agencies are the latest to be evacuated.

A retirement village in the upmarket suburb of Khandallah has also been partly evacuated, with residents of 40 apartments re-housed elsewhere in the region.

HAS YOUR BUILDING BEEN QUAKE DAMAGED? TELL US YOUR STORY

Ryman Healthcare said the Figaro building at the Malvina Major Retirement Village in Khandallah had been evacuated as precaution.

A preliminary engineering inspection after Monday's magnitude 7.5 quake had uncovered areas of suspected structural damage, a Ryman spokesman said.

All 40 apartments in the building had been evacuated. Other buildings at the village were cleared in the inspection.

Most residents had been moved to Ryman's Bob Scott village in Petone, which was brand new and had space for them. Others were being looked after in alternative accommodation or with family.

Ryman managing director Simon Challies said safety was the first priority.

"We know this is inconvenient for our residents but there was sufficient concern for us to take this precaution given the likelihood of more aftershocks.

"We are trying our best to keep our residents comfortable in the meantime by moving them to other villages."

A full assessment is likely to take two weeks.

Earlier today, Simpl House on Mercer St, a mixed-use office tower, was evacuated about 10.30am.

The building, opposite the council headquarters and central library, houses offices, retail outlets, Plunket and the Government drug-buying agency Pharmac.

The Tennyson Apartments building on Tennyson St, Te Aro, was also evacuated this morning.

Fire Service Wellington assistant area commander Gareth Hughes said a main structural element of the Tennyson Apartments, which was holding up a fair bit of weight, had suffered a "severe crack".

Council engineers had alerted firefighters after a routine post-earthquake check this morning. The Fire Service then assisted with evacuations.

"We've evacuated approximately 60 residents out of the building. There's about 23 apartments."

Police and Wellington Region Emergency Management staff had helped to find alternative accommodation and ensure the residents were safe.

The Fire Service would work with urban search and rescue and council engineers to assess evacuation zones and the immediate future of the building.

"We've evacuated buildings either side for safety. Life risk is our main priority."

Wellington Regional Emergency Management spokeswoman Janet Purdey said the main concern was still an office tower at 61 Molesworth St, which had suffered structural damage.

The cordon around the building was extended this morning to include Pipitea House, on Pipitea St.

The building, which houses the Government Communications Security Bureau and the Security Intelligence Service, only opened in 2011.

Purdey said there were concerns with its facade, especially as high winds are expected today.

The spy agencies have been approached for comment.

Other buildings in the Molesworth St exclusion zone off-limits to occupants and the public, include:

• Royal Thai Embassy
• New Zealand Rugby Union headquarters building and the tenancies within, including NZ Post and Audit New Zealand
• Red Cross offices
• Wellington Cathedral of St Paul
• A number of private houses accessed off Collina Tce.

Alternative arrangements are being made for worshippers at Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, which is now formally closed.

The Defence Force today also confirmed its building - Freyberg House on Aitken St - had also been closed because of damage.

"The full extent of the damage will not be known for several days, and until that assessment is complete we cannot determine what work will have to be done or when it will be possible to reoccupy the building," a spokesman said.

"Consequently we are considering a range of options for interim solutions, including remote working and relocation of staff to other NZDF facilities.

"The safety of our staff and those who work with us is of paramount importance and this will remain our primary concern in the coming weeks."

Not all of the evacuations have been ordered by authorities.

Purdey said building managers ordered the evacuations on Tennyson and Mercer streets.

One lane of Featherston St has now reopened to traffic after it was closed because of falling debris.

Concerns about another building in Wellington early this morning turned out to be a false alarm.

The building at 40 Taranaki St was cordoned off just after 2am before being given the all-clear.

Other buildings closed by the quakes include Statistics House, which suffered structural damage, including a pancaked floor.

The building was purpose-built for Statistics New Zealand in 2005 and the agency recently signed a 16-year lease on the building, which is owned by CentrePort - a company owned by the Wellington and Manawatu-Wanganui regional councils.

Engineers have cleared Westpac Stadium of major structural damage, but the concourse and seating bowl will stay closed for about two weeks so damage, including liquefaction on the stadium's ring road and burst water pipes, can be repaired.

The 7.5 magnitude earthquake also cracked concrete and broke windows at the stadium.

- NZ Herald

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