A 7.8 magnitude jolt that shook many New Zealanders from their sleep last November didn't belong to Wellington.

The earthquake was centred 15 kilometres north-east of Culverden and is now known as the Kaikoura quake.

But it was a wake-up call for the capital. Some apartment dwellers described their experience as "complete terror".

Decisions on the fate of some buildings are yet to be made, the city is struggling to accommodate thousands of displaced workers and people have moved out of their homes in fear.

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Tear them down

The sound of demolition machines clawing at buildings has become all too familiar in Wellington.

The demolition of Freyberg House, the former home of the Defence Force, is ahead of schedule.

The interior has been stripped and sections of the top floor have been removed.

There are at least 12 buildings at CentrePort bound for demolition. Some were already deemed earthquake prone prior to the November 14 shake.

Chief Executive Derek Nind said the demolition of Statistics House was due to start on December 27 and would take about six weeks to complete.

He could not say whether engineers and insurers would reach a decision on the BNZ building before Christmas.

"They are working hard on that and working as fast as they can. They are big buildings and they are complex and an earthquake is a major event."

Nind said the biggest challenge in the past year was getting the port's container operation back up and running.

He said $63 million dollars was set aside to build resilience into the port by strengthening its perimeter.

The commercial building deemed at imminent risk of collapse at 61 Molesworth Street is no more.

Prime Property Group director Eyal Aharoni said a new base isolated office building was planned for the empty site. He hopes to have consent for the build early next year.

Reading Cinema's severely damaged car park is gone. The empty site has been turned into parking spaces for the time being.

Queensgate Shopping Centre is almost back to business as usual after its cinema and part of a car-park were demolished.

Stride Property Group retail general manager Roy Stansfield said the new cinema was in the design stage and all but 150 car parks were fully operational.

Stansfield said this Christmas would be vastly different from last year when half the centre was closed.

Part of Queensgate shopping centre in Lower Hutt had to be demolished following the quake. Photo/Mark Mitchell
Part of Queensgate shopping centre in Lower Hutt had to be demolished following the quake. Photo/Mark Mitchell

"We've got the added dimension of H&M and the hype that's brought to the centre as well, which has given us a real boost. So it's going to be very busy."

An earthquake-damaged apartment block at Malvina Major retirement village in Johnsonville has been demolished.

Ryman Healthcare corporate affairs manager David King said a resource consent had been secured for its replacement.

"It is a brand-new block which meets all new seismic requirements. It will include 47 apartments and has been designed to fit in with the rest of the village".

But Wellington City Council's Chief Resilience officer Mike Mendonça said demolition wasn't all doom and gloom.

"Each time a building is demolished is an opportunity for us as a city to do something better and by in large the developers around town are taking that opportunity."

CentrePort building Shed 35, damaged by the Kaikoura Earthquake. Photo / Mark Mitchell
CentrePort building Shed 35, damaged by the Kaikoura Earthquake. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Complete terror

Wellington City Council and the Joint Centre for Disaster Research have undertaken a survey of how apartment dwellers fared after the earthquake.

More than 800 people, who primarily lived in Aro Valley and Central Wellington, responded.

Two thirds of them evacuated within the first hour after the earthquake mostly due to fear.

Respondents raised concerns about not having enough space in their apartments to store water and suggested water tanks could be installed on buildings or buried.

One respondent suggested people were unaware of how those in apartments experienced the earthquake.

"I've heard from other apartment dwellers and their experience was the same - complete terror - but when you talk to people in houses they don't understand what you went through."

Others said they moved out of their apartments.

"Although structurally ok, the building shook more and made creaky noises in the wind that made me panic because it sounded like the earthquake. There were also a lot of cracks in the plaster that while only superficial, [it] was that constant reminder."

The old Reading Cinema car park has been demolished following last year's earthquake. Photo/Georgina Campbell
The old Reading Cinema car park has been demolished following last year's earthquake. Photo/Georgina Campbell

Another respondent spoke of the mental toll.

"The emotional trauma following was something our household was not prepared for, it has impacted our overall mental health a lot. It too is [a] concern as well as physical safety if there are any future quakes."

Wellington City Council Community Services manager Jenny Rains said the earthquake's effect on the capital was quite different to other places.

She said its nature was particularly extreme in taller buildings.

"So, while there may be less buildings affected compared to elsewhere, the actual number of people in those buildings was quite significant.

"Although many of the buildings were structurally fine, it's the effect of the shaking and things falling over and having to feel they had to get out that has a lasting effect on people."

Rains said people needed to remember that Wellington was still working through its recovery period and confidence has been shaken.

"Today it's time to reach out and make contact with family and friends and not be alone and realise that it's ok to think about it and reflect on the earthquake."

Scaffolding being erected on the exterior of the GCSB and SIS building in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Scaffolding being erected on the exterior of the GCSB and SIS building in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Musical chairs

It's estimated there are still thousands of city workers displaced.

Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford said some people were temporary relocated while their buildings were refurbished. He said other buildings were deemed uninhabitable and decisions on their future were yet to be made.

"It really has been musical chairs right around the city."

Milford said the displacement generated a greater understanding of work flexibility but was also affecting cohesion among colleagues and possibly morale.

Milford said he wished quicker assessments and decisions could be made on buildings so the business community could decide the future.

"There are a number of buildings that are empty at the moment and nothing's happening to them and that's frustrating, but again, I understand the process because we're talking millions and millions of dollars."

Wellington City Council's Chief Resilience officer Mike Mendonça said commercial buildings, which still remained unoccupied, have been checked and hold no immediate threat to the public.

"We think it's fine that the owners go through in detail with their insurers to figure out what is the future of these buildings, we're not too concerned about that, other than the aesthetics of having empty buildings around the place."

Demolition work has begun at Freyberg House, the former home of the Defence Force. Photo/Georgina Campbell
Demolition work has begun at Freyberg House, the former home of the Defence Force. Photo/Georgina Campbell

The council closed its civic administration building leaving about 450 staff displaced.

They have moved to the Municipal Office Building next to the Town Hall or in temporary spaces in the top floors of the Central Library, a floor of Simpl House in Mercer St and the Odlins Building on Taranaki St Wharf.

Greater Wellington Regional Council's head office location at Shed 39 suffered damage to some internal walls and the floor slab on the ground level of the building.

By 2018 about 180 staff will be working from Shed 39 but more than 200 will be working from premises on Walter St, which has been secured under a medium term lease arrangement.

Statistics New Zealand is now housed across four sites.

The Ministry of Transport was co-located with Statistics New Zealand before the earthquake and remains with part of it at Westpac House.

The New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry of Defence are now housed in the Freyberg Building because Freyberg House and Revera House are being demolished.

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

Office squeeze

With so many workers displaced, the squeeze on Wellington's available office space is tightening.

According to figures from Colliers International's Research and Consulting team, there was just 0.1 per cent of prime office space available in Wellington in June down from 2.0 per cent before the earthquake.

Wellington Commercial Leasing associate director Steve Maitland said it was a landlord's market. "It's a scary figure quite frankly, the market operates better when there's a bit more vacancy.

"It [the earthquake] turned the real estate market on its head in November and the market hasn't recovered."

Maitland said he has never seen a figure like it in the 20 years he has spent working in the market.

He said prime office space was popular because those buildings often had higher seismic ratings, larger floors and were managed professionally.

Maitland said it would be at least three years before any new buildings could help ease the squeeze on the market.

He said he was watching the new government closely following suggestions it might regionalise some of its government tenancies.

"That could have the effect of releasing some more space in the market but once again, that sort of transition doesn't happen quickly."

Under urgency

Wellington's building stock has undergone a series of urgent checks.

After the initial engineering assessments, more detailed checks of 80 buildings were done.

In March, the Government ordered the owners of 95 buildings to secure at-risk masonry within the next year.

Not one building has completed the work. Wellington City Council's city strategy committee has agreed to lend struggling owners money to help them get the work done on time.

A carpark has replaced a significantly damaged office block at 61 Molesworth St. Photo/Georgina Campbell
A carpark has replaced a significantly damaged office block at 61 Molesworth St. Photo/Georgina Campbell

Structural Engineering Society spokesman Paul Campbell said he believed there were enough resources to get the work done. Securing unreinforced masonry was vital to improving the public safety.

"If you deal with the worst of the worst first, you raise that average with the least amount of effort so dealing to these unreinforced masonry buildings in high seismic zones is a key step."

Campbell said he was sympathetic to those affected by lengthy decisions over other buildings.

"But some of these decisions have very significant consequences so you need to take the time it takes to make an informed decision and often there's multiple parties who have to have input into these decisions."

Work underway to demolish the Reading Cinema car park building in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Work underway to demolish the Reading Cinema car park building in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The great hunt for water

Earthquake damage to Wellington's Three Waters network cost about $4 million to fix but the quake cost more than money.

Lower Hutt's water supply is now permanently chlorinated and treated with UV after positive tests for E coli.

The company's now in a race against time to build infrastructure by January so the new treatment can keep up with summer demand.

Mark Kinvig of Wellington Water said work to install an emergency water supply was on track to be completed by June next year.

The supply would be able to deliver 20 litres of water per person per day within a kilometre of every urban residential household in the region.

"We're creating an alternative water network that's made up of smaller bores and emergency treatment plant water stations that are distributed across the region. We're using bladders as well to store water," Kinvig said.

Lower Hutt's water supply was permanently chlorinated after the earthquake, meaning residents like Irving Caldwell can only get unchlorinated water from taps in Petone. Photo/Georgina Campbell
Lower Hutt's water supply was permanently chlorinated after the earthquake, meaning residents like Irving Caldwell can only get unchlorinated water from taps in Petone. Photo/Georgina Campbell

A drilling rig in Wellington's harbour is also searching for an alternative drinking water supply for the region. Kinvig said fresh water was found in the first exploratory bore but it contained high levels of ammonia which would have made for expensive treatment costs.

He said a second bore was now being explored and experts were confident.

When it is Wellington's earthquake

Mendonça said the earthquake gave the city "a good fright" but it had come a long way one year later.

"We can be proud of what we've achieved but we can't be complacent, there's plenty of more work to be done."

In the lead up to the Kaikoura earthquake anniversary last week the Wellington Region Emergency Office posted a clear message on its Facebook page.

"Everyone had a bit of a shake-up, and our councils, and our community and agency partners recognise that it wasn't our earthquake and we need to do more to prepare for when it IS our earthquake."