Wellington bounces back after day of shutdown

05:15, Jul 23 2013

The capital has bounced back to life today after yesterday's quake disruption from Sunday's big shake.

The central city was little more than a ghost town yesterday as thousands of workers heeded Civil Defence warnings to stay clear of central Wellington.

Multiple aftershocks off the coast of Marlborough continued, with the strongest jolt a 5.2 at 10.47am yesterday.

Overnight, those rattles continued, the largest of which was 4.9-magnitude at 1.31am at a depth of 25km in Cook Strait. All other quakes since midnight were 3.8 or lower.

There was a 4.6-magnitude quake at 9.24am today at a depth of 16km, centred 10km east of Seddon.

Scientists revised their aftershock probabilities last night, with the odds of another big one declining sharply.


For the next seven days there is an 87 per cent probability of a 5.0 to 5.9 aftershock, compared with 99 per cent on Sunday.

And the chance of an aftershock of 6.0 or higher is at 19 per cent, compared with 30 per cent on Sunday.

GNS Science said there was still a 39 per cent chance that an earthquake greater than 6.0 would strike the region some time in the next 12 months.

"Unlike the Canterbury region, an event like this is not a surprise," seismologist Ken Gledhill said. "It's something that will happen every few decades."

Extra seismic instruments are being put into coastal Marlborough to get more accurate measurements of the aftershocks. The battery-powered instruments will be left to record for at least two weeks before the data is retrieved and analysed.

In Wellington, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has declared the city open for business today, with all civic buildings cleared of damage - except for the portico link between the council offices and Wellington Library.

In a briefing this morning, Ms Wade-Brown said police, fire and urban search and rescue have been stood back down to normal duty.

Engineers are continuing inspections today but no structural damage has been found in Wellington.

Inspectors have been been brought in from Christchurch.

Featherston St in central Wellington remains a "hot spot" for damage with various cordons still up.

The majority of broken glass came from older buildings, she said.

The council would push ahead with $43 million upgrade of the Town Hall, which would include earthquake isolation on par with Te Papa.

The council portico, which suffered damage in the quake, would be torn down in April or May next year.

Neville Brown, from the council, said most visual inspections on buildings had been done, so the all-clear should be given "reasonably quickly".

The Greater Wellington Regional Council's offices in Wakefield St remain closed to the public after post earthquake investigations revealed its stairwells were compromised and should not be used.

Senior managers were meeting today to discuss alternative accommodation options for its staff, and to put in place contingency plans which will enable urgent and statutory work to continue without interruption.

"Essential operations including bulk water supply and all on the ground operations including flood protection, biodiversity, biosecurity, parks, harbour master etc have not been affected by the earthquake and continue to work normally," chief executive Dave Benham said.

"The ground floor of the council building is operational, and reception will be open to the public from tomorrow."

The 10-storey block, built in the 1980s, has previously been assessed as earthquake prone.

It was built on liquefaction-prone soft soil for which its foundations were not designed, among other serious faults.

The building also suffered water damage after pipes burst during the quake.

The council was due to move out later this year.

Prime Minister John Key said the damage across the city was not "tremendously significant".

"There are certainly buildings that are going to require further examination . . . but for the most part, outside of broken glass and a little bit of superficial damage, generally speaking the city has come through it very well."

But Wellington region Civil Defence controller Bruce Pepperell said the response to Sunday's 6.5-magnitude earthquake was not an over-reaction.

"I think it was a very cautious and prudent reaction, actually," he said. "We're trying to bring confidence back to the people of Wellington, which is really important. Some people get really spooked by aftershocks. We learned a lot of lessons from the Christchurch situation."

Perhaps the most visible damage was along the waterfront, where 15 square metres of sea wall and road slumped into the sea near the container terminal.

Wellington's CentrePort has resumed operations today, after engineers checked the company's buildings and infrastructure.

Chairman Warren Larsen said all port workers and tenants were safe though many were unnerved by Sunday's earthquake.

''We called in the experts to check both the land and structures at the port and were able to resume normal operations, which included unloading a container ship at 5pm yesterday, and the resumption of ferry services.''

Mr Larsen said a lot of superficial damage around Harbour Quays needed to be fixed, especially in the BNZ building.

''I've inspected the buildings myself and whilst there is damage to ceiling panels and light fittings, and water damage, engineers advise it's not structural damage.''

Repairs were expected to take 6-8 weeks.

CentrePort was working with the BNZ, Statistics New Zealand and other tenants on plans to repair the damaged fittings and fixtures in their respective buildings, and on re-establishing critical business functions.

The southern access road at the container terminal, which was not critical to port operations, remained closed after part it slipped into the harbour.

About 1200 BNZ staff were among city workers ordered to stay home yesterday while engineers carried out structural assessments on the workplaces.

A BNZ spokeswoman said engineers found the building sound, but it had sustained extensive water damage caused by dislodged ceiling panels bursting pipes.

Statistics New Zealand's Harbour Quays offices suffered water damage, with 600 staff staying at home yesterday and today.

Meanwhile, threats to public safety from glass falling from broken windows, and from loose masonry, are among problems being flagged by inspectors checking city buildings.

About 35 buildings have been identified as externally damaged out of almost 2500 in the central business district - mainly broken windows and cracked or broken masonry. About 12 buildings in Featherston St are cordoned because of concerns about falling debris.

Wellington High School and Wellington Girls' College both have confirmed damage and repairs are under way.

Victoria University was closed yesterday, but will reopen this morning. Massey University's Wellington campus will reopen at 8.30am.

Councils around New Zealand had offered to send staff to help with building inspections in Wellington, Ms Wade-Brown said. "We may take them up on their offers if there is a need for more inspectors."

Double the number of police were on the beat last night, "to prevent anyone taking advantage of the current situation", said acting district commander, Superintendent Sue Schwalger.

Memphis Belle Coffee House in Dixon St was one of just a few central city shops open yesterday. "There were still plenty of people walking around here, though," co- owner Nick Clark said. "People still need their coffee."

A NZTA spokesman said state highways had stood up well to the quake.

An audio recording of the earthquake was caught by Conrad Johnston and uploaded to YouTube - listen below:

The Dominion Post