Rail lines reopen as inspections continue

STAFF REPORTERS
Last updated 09:48 22/07/2013
Fairfax NZ

A severe magnitude 6.5 earthquake damages buildings, cuts power, and traps people in lifts.

Wellington quake defcon
Angela Crompton Zoom
French tourist Luca Zappula photographed the White Bluffs from the Wairau Bar minutes before the quake (left), while the photo on the right shows the dust settling afterwards, with a small piece of the headland appearing to be missing.

Earthquake shakes Wellington

48 hours of earthquake activity

Wellington quake
WITHOUT WARNING: Kyle Woods among fallen rubble in downtown Featherston St

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LATEST: Rail services to and from Wellington have resumed after safety inspections following yesterday's severe 6.5 magnitude quake.

Tranz Metro said half-hourly services on the Hutt Valley, Wairarapa, Johnsonville and Waikanae resumed as of 1pm Monday.

A full timetable was expected to be operating tomorrow.

The rail operator warned, if there were strong aftershocks, more stoppages were possible.

STAY AWAY UNTIL TUESDAY

People have been warned to stay away from Wellington's CBD until tomorrow, as the inspection and cleanup continues.

The quake was the strongest of a swarm that were centred in Cook Strait.

Between midnight and 6am today, 34 quakes were recorded in GeoNet’s preliminary reading. The largest this morning was a 4.9 quake at 3.15am.

The strongest aftershock today was a 5.2 at 10.47am, and quakes of 4-magnitude at 12.20pm, and 4.6-magnitude quake at 1.48pm have also been felt.

Parts of the Wellington central city are still cordoned off today as emergency authorities assess damage.

Wellington police plan to be "highly visible" in the city overnight, with twice as many officers on the beat.

Acting District Commander Superintendent Sue Schwalger said extra cops would be on the streets to deter any would-be criminals from taking advantage of "the current situation".

"Anyone coming into the CBD this evening is asked to stay away from the cordoned off areas which are there for good safety reasons.

"We want people to feel safe in the city and be reassured by the police presence."

There had not been an increase in reports of crime since the earthquake, she said.

Share your quake story and pics. Email web@dompost.co.nz.

In a briefing this morning, Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown extended the period people should avoid the city from midday today to the whole day.

While council inspectors were doing visual inspections of damaged buildings today, owners would be responsible for getting engineers to check them out further.

The portico – a link between the Wellington City Council offices and Wellington Library in Civic Square – suffered the worst damage in the council precinct.

NZTA has ‘‘strongly advised’’ people avoid the city until tomorrow.

Greater Wellington Regional Council Chairwoman Fran Wilde said one container had fallen in the water at the port in Wellington. It remained in the water but was contained.

Civil Defence warned people could expect ‘‘a level of severe inconvenience for some time yet’’.

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An NZTA spokesman said roads into Wellington at 8am were ‘‘quieter than normal’’.

Considering trains were also out of action, and no replacement buses were available, it appeared people were heeding advice to stay home this morning.

State highways had been inspected and stood up to the quake well, he said.

Traffic coming in to the city from Hutt Valley was light, with one commuter saying it was about the same as a Saturday morning.

Parts of central Wellington resembled a ghost town this morning. Among the few people trying to get to work was Preeti Pillai.

‘‘I was pretty freaked out last night, so I thought I’d go to work to get my mind of things. I had a pretty sleepless night, I’m on the third floor of an apartment building and it was shaking constantly.’’

Four people had suffered minor injuries in the quake.

A Capital & Coast District Health Board spokesman said all sites in Wellington, Kapiti, and Kenepuru were checked and considered safe. All services were operating as normal.

A Wellington Zoo spokeswoman said the zoo had avoideWellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said staff had checked the Kingston Slip site this morning and there was no further damage.

The June 1 slipped forced 35 people from their homes when 50,000 cubic metres of earth slipped down a hillside early. Some residents of Priscilla Cres are still unable to entre their homes. d any issues and animals were fine this morning.

BUILDING INSPECTIONS

The Fire Services Urban Search and Rescue team of engineers and technicians are working with the city council to check buildings are safe to re-occupy.

A dozen engineers are working their way through the city along with a USAR team that includes three engineers, six technicians and a paramedic.

A Fire Service command unit has been set up on The Terrace to provide communications and support to the USAR team. 

BUILDING DAMAGE

Parts of Featherston St, Wakefield St and Bolton St remain closed due to suspected damage to buildings.

First light revealed the extent of damage on Featherston St.

Dozens of windows are broken, with broken glass littering the street this morning.

Masonry has sheared off a building near the intersection of Johnston and Feathertson streets.

The area is cordoned as workers inspect and begin to clear the buildings.

A BNZ spokeswoman said the worst affected site for the bank was in the Harbour Quays building, off Waterloo Quay. There was broken glass, ceiling panels down, and water damage from sprinklers that went off.

The 1200 staff who worked in the building were working from home today and the Wellington call centre was being diverted to Auckland.

BNZs on Manners St and the north end of Lambton Quay were closed, as was the Blenheim branch.

Wellington District Court, Wellington Railway Station, Massey and Victoria universities, The Justice Centre on Aitken St, and the Tribunals Unit on Customhouse Quay are all closed until further notice.

Wellington bus services are running as normal this morning, but train services are not, and no replacement buses are in place for them.

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean all council buildings including the library, the City Art Gallery, and council offices were closed this morning.

An Insurance Council spokesman said it was too early this morning to put a cost on the quake.

‘‘Given that potential structural damage to buildings and houses will be the most significant cost, policy holders will have to get engineers’ reports before they start filing claims with insurers, so it will be a few days before we get a reasonable assessment of the likely cost.’’

Willis St's Mercure Hotel, which had thought to have sunk by about 5cm in one corner, had now been taken off the danger list.

The hotel will remained closed for at least the rest of today and possibly until Wednesday, after being closed last night a precaution while damage was assessed, with guests moved to Mercure Wellington on The Terrace.

Initial inspections suggested there was nothing to worry about and it could reopen.

However, a spokeswoman for owners Accor Hotels said it would be kept shut until a detailed structural inspection was carried out, which may not take place until Wednesday.

SEAWALL SLUMP

Fifteen square metres of sea wall and road had slumped into the sea at the southern end of the container terminal, Wellington harbourmaster Captain Mike Pryce said.

Two rafts used at Oriental Bay during the summer that were being stored on dry land had ended up back in the sea, he said.

Also taking an unscheduled dip was a six-tonne buoy – one of two used at Barrett Reef – which was being stored by the seawall.

Captain Pryce said the slumping should not affect CentrePort operations.

‘‘But they might have to re-route trucks leaving the port. The damage is quite severe and what is left is pretty precarious.’’

A pilot boat was this morning taking depth soundings of Wellington Harbour to check if the sea floor had shifted as a result of the quake.

‘‘We don’t expect that it has, but we want to see.’’

AFTERSHOCK ANALYSIS

Victoria University geophysics professor Euan Smith said as we moved further away from the 6.5 magnitude quake at 5.09pm yesterday the aftershocks were ‘‘decaying’’.

It meant the quoted chance of another big quake, of magnitude 6 or over, was about 30 per cent last night.

It was now down to about 10 per cent.

But there was uncertainty about which exact fault caused the quake, which was a different ‘‘faulting style’’ to those yesterday morning and Friday morning.

The earlier quakes were caused by tectonic plates slipping under and over one another.

But last night’s was the sideways movement of two plates.

‘‘It’s an ambiguity we can’t resolve... given the uncertainty in faulting styles has changed it’s even more unpredictable than it was.

‘‘We now have two things happening at once.’’

It was still possible to have another quake that was ‘‘strong and dangerous’’.

The sideways-movement quakes were less likely to cause a tsunami, though they had potential to cause an underwater landslide which could trigger one that could endanger Cook Strait-edge site.

LAST NIGHT

Masonry fell, people started panic buying at supermarkets and one person was knocked out by a falling TV in the 20-second quake yesterday that was followed by a flurry of aftershocks.

Several high-rise buildings were evacuated last night, with authorities expecting more damage to be revealed this morning.

Deputy Mayor Ian MacKinnon said people should check in with their employers and monitor the news before travelling to work.

The quake was bigger than Christchurch's devastating February 22 shake - and released energy equivalent to 100 "Hiroshima" nuclear bombs.

GNS Science seismologist Stephen Bannister said Wellingtonians could count their blessings it wasn't centred closer to the capital.

"If it had been under the city we would have been looking at equal damage or close to what happened in Christchurch."

In the capital, thousands of people huddled under tables and door frames, as the shuddering brought masonry and shattered glass showering down on to the street.

The fire service had more than 60 callouts last night and had to rescue three groups of people stuck in apartment block lifts when the quake struck.

In Brandon St, about 20 people were evacuated from Brandon Village accommodation after a large concrete slab was shaken loose.

Part of Civic Square under the overbridge was also cordoned off after pipes on the fourth storey of Wellington Library burst, sending water gushing on to the footpath below.

The overbridge connecting Wellington Library and the city council building was dangerously damaged, prompting an evacuation of staff at the council's emergency call centre.

Prime Minister John Key acknowledged yesterday that it was a "frightening time" for those jolted by the quakes. He planned to fly into Wellington this morning.

 

- The Dominion Post

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