Reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Unsafe buildings displace workers and residents

Thousands of workers and residents of Wellington's CBD have been displaced, as engineers continue to detect damage incurred to buildings after this week's earthquakes and aftershocks.

They will go into the weekend not knowing if they can return to work or home by Monday.

The latest evacuations yesterday affected about 550 junior Wellington Girls' College students and staff from Housing New Zealand's Boulcott St premises.

Questions remain unanswered, and Wellington City Council staff are unable to provide a list of buildings evacuated or damaged by the quake.

Three buildings have been declared structurally unsafe, and 16 require major repairs, according to council.

Police and Fire Service tape can be seen flapping in the wind across the capital, as engineers continue to work into the weekend assessing properties for damage.

Some buildings are shedding glass, which a quick fix will rectify. Others - like CentrePort owned Statistics House, and the former Deloitte building at 61 Molesworth St - face demolition.

Yesterday, Wellington's newly elected mayor Justin Lester brushed off suggestions the CBD should have been red-zoned on Monday.

And council chief executive Kevin Lavery said though safety checks were the responsibility of building owners under the Building Act, the organisation had the power to take over, and bill them.

However, according to the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) there is no specific timeframe set in legislation for assessments to be made after major quakes.

There were about 17,000 residents in the city's CBD, Lester said.

On Thursday, about 100 of them were left homeless, evacuated from their apartment building in Tory St with just enough time to pack a few belongings after the neighbouring Reading Cinemas car park building was found to be likely to collapse in another strong quake.

Damage caused by this morning's 7.5 earthquake at CentrePort in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Damage caused by this morning's 7.5 earthquake at CentrePort in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Lester said work would soon get under way to stabilise it in case of an aftershock and building would likely be torn down.

Yesterday, the evacuations continued.

About 550 Wellington Girls' College students were sent home due to an engineering assessment finding issues in two stairwells, which meant emergency evacuation routes would be inaccessible.

As a precaution, the junior school students will remain at home until repair work is completed.

And at the Housing New Zealand Corporation building in Boulcott St, staff were evacuated to allow engineers to access the floor on level nine, despite an engineer's report saying the building was structurally sound with some superficial plaster cracks.

"Once back in the office, our staff noticed a change to the floor angle ... which we arranged to be reassessed," a spokeswoman said.

"The engineers have said that to get a better understanding of any damage they will need to move desks around and pull up carpet."

Other buildings affected by the quake included the BNZ building at 60 Waterloo Quay, and Shed 39, home of the Greater Wellington Regional Council offices, which has a staff of about 320. Of those, 15 remained working on the first floor.

Amora Hotel guests gather in a carpark after an earthquake on November 14, 2016 in Wellington. Photo / Getty Images
Amora Hotel guests gather in a carpark after an earthquake on November 14, 2016 in Wellington. Photo / Getty Images

Both buildings are also owned by CentrePort. The Government will commission a technical investigation into the performance of the modern CentrePort owned Statistics House building and several others.

At 10 Mulgrave St, Archives New Zealand staff have been evacuated. It's unknown when they'll return.

And tenants have been evacuated from 2 Aitken St - home to the Ministry of Defence, Justice, ACC, Crown Law, and Ministry of Education staff, with a plan being developed to return people to the building next week.

AUT University engineering professor John Tookey said the failure of multiple buildings after Monday's 7.8 magnitude quake implied systemic problems with the requirements of building design.

"Otherwise you would only expect one building to fall over," he said.

"Not unreasonably, the general public and engineers want answers and want them quickly. When the dust settles in Wellington, investigations will be thorough and exhaustive."

In quake-ravaged Kaikoura, welcome supplies of food, water and other basic necessities were delivered by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) by land, sea and air yesterday morning.

The building at 61 Molesworth Street, Wellington, which the fire service says is in danger of collapse. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The building at 61 Molesworth Street, Wellington, which the fire service says is in danger of collapse. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A convoy of 28 Defence Force trucks left Culverden at 9.30am, carrying vital supplies for quake-damaged communities in North Canterbury, after poor weather conditions, further cracks on the road and risks of further landslides halted the aid convoy on Thursday.

Four maritime helicopters provided by Australia, Canada and the United States were helping offload about 216 tonnes of supplies from the amphibious sealift vessel HMNZS Canterbury.

The HMNZS Canterbury will leave Kaikoura for Lyttelton this morning, taking with it a further 100 tourists and 60 residents. It will bring the total number of people evacuated from the coastal town since Monday to almost 900.

The ship will then return to deliver more supplies to the region.

The efforts had "brought confidence to our community", Kaikoura mayor Winston Gray said.

"This has been the biggest event we've ever experienced and the combined navies have provided tremendous support, evacuating hundreds of people and bringing in tonnes of much-needed supplies. We just couldn't have done without them and on behalf of everyone here I'd like to express our appreciation."

Meanwhile, University of Canterbury researchers confirmed a tsunami did occur along the Canterbury coastline, impacting Kaikoura, Pegasus Bay and Banks Peninsula, following Monday's quake.

Water flooded 140m inland south of Kaikoura, damaging one home at Little Pigeon Bay. Sumner, Redcliffs, Port Levy and Pigeon Bay locals also reported tsunami waves striking the coast without causing damage.

- NZ Herald

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