Wellingtonians have been unnecessarily "spooked" by the Christchurch earthquakes, says one of the city's most experienced structural engineers.
Peter Johnstone, who has designed dozens of major Wellington buildings since the early 1970s, says the city is far better prepared for a major earthquake than Christchurch.
"Compared with Christchurch, which was not really expecting a major quake, Wellington has been expecting one for at least 45 years, with codes that have required buildings to withstand far greater forces than those built in Christchurch."
Former mayor Sir Michael Fowler helped lift the standard of the city's building stock by requiring that many older buildings be demolished, while others have been strengthened.
Apart from the Pyne Gould Guinness and CTV buildings, which collapsed and killed many people, he believed Christchurch's buildings performed well, given the massive size of the earthquakes, and Wellington buildings would perform better.
"Buildings in Wellington are designed to be twice as strong as those in Christchurch, which is a very significant thing, and furthermore, we don't have the same liquefaction potential as Christchurch. We're on better ground and it was the soft ground that caused a lot of damage there."
Where the fault lines below Christchurch were unknown, Wellington had a well-defined geology and its codes were accordingly more stringent.
"We've been spooked by Christchurch and the effect has been a large over-reaction.
"Wellington's got a right to be concerned, but we've got to add some realism to the situation."
The number of New Zealanders killed in earthquakes in the past century was a fraction of those killed on the roads.
"We can't make things risk free, but we've got to understand the risk and manage it. We've got to make Wellington citizens proud to be part of the city and its unique earthquake resistance.
"We should celebrate it.
"We're not as badly off as Christchurch by a long way. There are few buildings up on The Terrace that I'd be a bit worried about - I'm not going to name them - but they are not like the CTV building."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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