Nearly 3 months on, Wellington still feeling effects of Kaikoura earthquake

By Georgina Campbell

Thousands of workers have been displaced, building assessment deadlines are not being met and earthquake damage is still only just coming to light.

It is almost three months on from Kaikoura's earthquake but the effects are still being felt in Wellington.

On Wednesday afternoon, 495 Inland Revenue staff were evacuated from their building on Hawkestone Street.

The move came after a secondary engineering check was completed at the weekend.

By the end of today the owners of 80 buildings are due to have finished these more thorough tests but several said they were unable to meet Wellington City Council's deadline.

The IRD building joins the list of many office blocks sitting empty since the earthquake, leaving thousands of workers displaced.

Other quake-stricken buildings have already been brought crashing down by high-reach excavators.

Meanwhile, the engineering industry is preparing for a second national response following the Government's latest emergency strengthening requirements.

All this, and it wasn't even Wellington's earthquake.

By the end of today the owners of 80 buildings are due to have finished more thorough tests. Photo / Mark Mitchell
By the end of today the owners of 80 buildings are due to have finished more thorough tests. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Council orders

In December, Wellington City Council ordered owners of 80 buildings to undertake more invasive engineering checks following preliminary findings in the Statistics House investigation.

Owners had until January 20 to tell the council work was underway and until the end of today to have it completed.

Chief resilience officer Mike Mendonca said some building owners were unable to meet the deadline and needed an extension.

"The nature of the extensions is around about a week so while we're anticipating the bulk of them to come in today, there may be a few more to drift in next week."

Mendonca said that was because some engineering firms were "snowed under".

He also said construction constraints, like the presence of asbestos, meant the work was taking more time.

The engineering industry has already dedicated a national response to dealing with Wellington's initial building checks and the more thorough, invasive checks.

When the November 14 earthquake hit, engineers did an initial council-ordered check of 1200 buildings.

Demolition work continues on the nine-storey building at 61 Molesworth St. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Demolition work continues on the nine-storey building at 61 Molesworth St. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Structural Engineering Society president Paul Campbell said some larger firms in Wellington had flown extra staff in to cope with the workload.

Some daily business had been transferred out of town to allow Wellington engineers "a bit of breathing space".

"It's been a response nationally but we shouldn't also forget that there's been an engineering response in Kaikoura and the South Island as well."

In January the Government used its powers under the Kaikoura Earthquake Recovery Act to ensure 300 building owners in Wellington, Lower Hutt and Blenheim will secure unreinforced facades and parapets within 12 months.

Around 250 of those buildings are in Wellington.

Campbell said engineers would once again be drawing on national resources to get that work done.

In central Wellington, the Reading Cinema car park demolition is on track to be finished by the end of March. Photo / Mark Mitchell
In central Wellington, the Reading Cinema car park demolition is on track to be finished by the end of March. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Building demolition

Wellington's earthquake demolition sites are all running to schedule despite the bad January weather.

A Hutt City Council spokeswoman said good progress was being made to bring down the Northeast corner of Queensgate Shopping Centre.

"Although strong winds in January meant the demolition crew couldn't work as often as they'd have liked to," she said.

Last week the cordon was reduced to give vehicle access to Hutt City New World car park from Waterloo Road.

Demolition is expected to be completed by early March.

In central Wellington, the Reading Cinema car park demolition is also on track to be finished by the end of March.

The 61 Molesworth Street site has been handed back to Prime Property from the council now that demolition there is complete.

Prime Property Group owner Eyal Aharoni would not comment on the future of the site or if the Jim Allen mural that sits there would be saved.

The list of those buildings waiting to meet their fate, however, is still long.

A Hutt City Council spokeswoman said good progress was being made to bring down the Northeast corner of Queensgate Shopping Centre. Photo / Mark Mitchell
A Hutt City Council spokeswoman said good progress was being made to bring down the Northeast corner of Queensgate Shopping Centre. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Ryman Healthcare spokesman David King said the company was still waiting for a final demolition date of an apartment complex at Malvina Major retirement village in Johnsonville.

"We definitely want to rebuild on the site so we can give residents some certainty," he said.

In November, Wellington City Council announced it was demolishing three of its buildings.
Two are between Cable Street and Wakefield Street, which is the site for the proposed Movie Museum and Convention Centre.

A 1960s church in Karori is also marked for demolition.

CentrePort has several severely damaged buildings and has confirmed three of them will be demolished.

The earthquake caused plenty of damage at CentrePort, including three buildings that will have to be demolished. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The earthquake caused plenty of damage at CentrePort, including three buildings that will have to be demolished. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Nowhere to go

Hundreds of Inland Revenue employees are the latest to join those who have been turfed out of their quake-stricken buildings indefinitely.

Their Hawkestone Street building in Wellington was evacuated on Wednesday after engineers voiced concerned about its concrete floors following the Kaikoura quake.

An Inland Revenue spokesman said staff were being relocated to Asteron House and premises in Upper Hutt.

"We've taken a really conservative safety-first approach."

He said the relocation would not affect major tax processes.

PSA national secretary Glenn Barclay said 661 of his Wellington union members alone are displaced.

"Some people will find if they're working from home that it might be a bit more convenient but overall, I think our members would prefer to be working in a stable place.

"It's going to affect their productivity, there's no doubt about that."

Free post-earthquake counselling is available through a partnership between Wellington City Council, Capital and Coast District Health Board and Victim Support.

Council community Services Manager Jenny Raines said she expected those who had been displaced to form a large part of the uptake.

She said Wellingtonians have access to up to three free sessions.

"It could be because they're out of their home or their business has had to move or because they're feeling stressed being in the city post-earthquake," she said.

Raines also said residents who live within the Tory Street cordon would be out of their homes for up to three months.

"It's very easy to manage that in the first few weeks but when it becomes longer, people begin to need some assistance to work through what it actually means for them."

61 Molesworth Street, centre, was one of several buildings that have had to be demolished after it was damaged in the November 14 Kaikoura earthquake. Photo / Mark Mitchell
61 Molesworth Street, centre, was one of several buildings that have had to be demolished after it was damaged in the November 14 Kaikoura earthquake. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Where to from here?

On November 14 the epicentre of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake was near Kaikoura, not Wellington.

Mendonca said while the earthquake affected certain high-rise buildings in the capital, it left most homes, power and water supplies untouched.

"We just need to remind ourselves that actually, that wasn't the Wellington earthquake, that was the Kaikoura earthquake.

"And we know that the Wellington earthquake is a highly likely scenario."

Mendonca said the Wellington Resistance Strategy would be a key priority for the council for at least 36 months.

GNS seismologist Matt Gerstenberger said when the latest predictions were calculated last month, there was a 3-4% chance of Wellington experiencing shaking similar to what was felt during the Kaikoura quake.

He said there was a 25% chance a 6-6.9 magnitude earthquake would be experienced in the area from just south of Kaikoura to just north of Wellington.

Gerstenberger said those probabilities were likely to change when new calculations were completed on February 19.

"If there's no large events between now and then, they will decrease from what they currently are."

Mendonca said if Wellingtonians could do one thing to prepare for an earthquake, they should get to know each other better.

"Invariably it's your neighbour who will look after you when something bad happens... Take five minutes to get to know your neighbour, you don't need to like them."

- Newstalk ZB

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