23 Jul 2013

Wellington re-open for business after quake

9:46 pm on 23 July 2013

Wellington's central business district reopened on Tuesday for the first time since a 6.5 magnitude earthquake at the weekend.

Buildings on some inner-city streets had to be cordoned off after Sunday evening's earthquake in Cook Strait due to concerns over falling masonry and glass.

The Wellington City Council said Featherston Street remained the hotspot, with 35 buildings suffering superficial damage. The street is mainly down to one lane and 12 buildings are out of bounds due to the risk of falling debris. Repair work has begun and the council hoped barriers would be removed within two weeks.

Wellington Civil Defence Region Controller Bruce Pepperell told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme some buildings in the CBD have damage to things like furnishings and water damage from sprinkler systems set off by the quake. A number of car park buildings are also closed as a precautionary measure.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown told a news conference on Tuesday there is no evidence that buildings in the capital suffered structural damage and inspectors were continuing assessments. She said aftershocks are diminishing in strength and a Wellington student army has enlisted more than 300 volunteers willing to help out in the community.

Buildings around Civic Square would open on Tuesday, including the Town Hall, council administration buildings, City Gallery and the Central Library. Council services such as other libraries, community centres and public pools will reopen.

Richard Sharp, the technical director for earthquake engineering consultancy Beca, said his company has had to call in extra staff from around New Zealand to help manage the volume of building inspections required.

Prime Minister John Key said the cost of the quake will be sizeable, but not horrendous. However, he said it is still too early to tell what the total cost would be as work continues to identify damage and assess buildings.

Regional council to relocate

The Wellington regional council has been forced to relocate at least half its staff after quake damage left stairwells in its office on Wakefield Street unusable. On Tuesday it said the ground floor of its office would remain open and essential operations would not be affected.

However, it has accelerated plans to relocate to Shed 38 on the waterfront and at least half its 280 staff in Wakefield Street would move in two weeks' time. In the meantime, some staff would work out of regional council offices in the Hutt Valley and Masterton.

Meanwhile, Creative New Zealand has had to abandon its office after engineers found the building is unsafe due to ceiling panels falling down and exposing cracks in the roof. The Old Public Trust Building, on the corner of Stout Street and Lambton Quay, also houses Capital Sports and Stout Street Chambers, which have also left the building.

Quake-prone buildings safe - council

The Wellington City Council says there is no evidence to suggest that 600 earthquake-prone buildings in the city are any less safe following Sunday's earthquake.

Building policy and planning manager Richard Toner said the council has carried out visual checks from the street, but not structural checks on buildings. However, he says it is satisfied there is no immediate risk to public safety.

In 2009, 600 Wellington buildings were deemed earthquake-prone with owners given up to 20 years to comply with standards. Mr Toner says the status of those buildings appeared to be unchanged and appeared safe, but their owners are responsible for more thorough checks.

Housing New Zealand said it appeared just two rental homes, both in Blenheim, have been affected by the quake, but urged tenants to call 0800-801-601 if needed.

Port operations resume

Wellington's port company CentrePort said on Tuesday all operations had all now resumed after engineers' assessments of infrastructure there found them structurally sound.

However, it said there is much superficial damage, particularly to the BNZ building in central Wellington which it also owns, which could take up to eight weeks to fix.

Ships were able to dock at Wellington's port from Monday evening. The port company was taking engineering advice before deciding whether to rebuild on land that subsided in the quake.

CentrePort chair Warren Larsen said the subsidence happened on a portion of reclaimed land in the wharf area, and the seawall there disintegrated with the quake's movement. He says the 15 metre section of road that fell into the sea during the quake is not essential to operations.

Some schools damaged

The Ministry of Education says a number of schools in Wellington have sustained damage in Sunday's earthquake.

The ministry said masonry fell at Wellington High School, while there is damage to a stairwell at Wellington Girls' College and cracks in the ceiling of Wairau Valley School. Other schools have reported only cosmetic damage.

It said it has prioritised structural assessments of multi-storied, heavy-roofed and masonry-constructed school buildings in Wellington and Marlborough. It says it is aiming to get as much work as possible done before the start of term next week.


Air New Zealand has announced it has introduced extra fare flexibility for passengers who have booked to travel to or from Wellington, up to and including Thursday, whose plans may have changed as a result of earthquake activity.

Train services resumed across the Wellington network on Monday afternoon and Tranz Metro advised all services were continuing to run as normal on Tuesday.