Royal Commission into Canterbury quakes begins

9:59 pm on 17 October 2011

Royal Commission hearings into the Canterbury earthquakes started in Christchurch on Monday with a indication questions will be raised about whether some of those trapped in collapsed buildings could have survived.

The region suffered a 6.3 magnitude quake on 22 February in which 182 people died, including more than 70 foreign nationals, and many others were injured.

The first of the 11 hearings began at St Teresa's School hall in Christchurch with a welcome by Commission chairperson Justice Mark Cooper in English and Maori. The names of the victims were read out followed by two minutes of silence.

The commission is examining the cause of building collapses and loss of life specifically in the February quake.

Nigel Hampton, QC, told the hearing on Monday he would be representing the husband and young children of Tamara Cvetanova, who died in the CTV building in the central city.

Mr Hampton said Dr Cvetanova survived building's initial collapse and died on 23 February.

Mr Hampton said that when the hearing looks at the circumstances of the collapse of the CTV building, expected to be in March next year, issues such as whether buildings are survivable should be considered, along with why they collapsed in the first place.

Mr Hampton says this should involve looking at survival zones within collapsed buildings, escape tunnels and procedures for the evacuation of buildings.

The hearings began on Monday by examining what was known about the seismic activity in Canterbury and the earthquake sequence since the first major quake on 4 September last year.

A spokesperson for GNS Science told the hearing the February quake was very shallow, very close to Christchurch and its energy was directed at the central business district.

He said there was a pattern of incredible shaking and extremely high levels of horizontal and vertical movement centred over quite a large part of the city, particularly the CBD as well as east and south-east Christchurch.

The evidence from GNS Science will continue on Tuesday.

Justice Cooper said some of those attending were still in the midst of their grief and hoped hearings will go some way to help them deal with that grief.