Quake-damaged chimneys cause concern

Chimneys are among the biggest casualties of the 6.2 Wellington Anniversary Day earthquake, and people are being urged to get them checked.

Up until 6am yesterday the Earthquake Commission had received just short of 2000 claims, 610 of them from Palmerston North, and more than 20 per cent related to chimneys.

But all authorities can do to ensure damaged chimneys are made safe is to offer advice.

The fire service in Palmerston North has been called to several properties in the Rangiora Ave area in Roslyn to attend incidents of chimney damage.

But assistant Manawatu area manager Rodger Calder said firefighters were not chimney experts, and apart from extreme cases where there was an imminent danger, they could only advise people to bring in a specialist. "Get them checked by someone who knows what they are doing before you light a fire - if there are any cracks, fire could spread into the house."

Palmerston North City Council head of building services Leigh Sage said his team of inspectors had fielded dozens of calls from people concerned about damage.

Most of the calls were about chimneys, or loose bricks, or the appearance of cracks.

Mr Sage said some sites had been inspected, with photos taken, but most damage was minor. Council officers had no powers to close buildings or oblige property owners to make repairs, he said.

That was because there was no state of emergency declared, and the Building Act specifically excluded the risk of collapse in future earthquakes from the grounds that a council could use to justify declaring a building as dangerous.

"We can only give advice." That advice was to get in a specialist to check chimneys, and to take them down if they were damaged.

Some damage would be invisible at this stage, and it would be wise for all homeowners to have them checked, he said. "The main messages I think are important are:

Check brick structures - chimneys, parapet walls and parts that are not easy to see.

Check concrete tile roofs - some tiles may have worked loose.

Seal any minor cracking to cladding to ensure it maintains weather tightness, around windows, doors and sheet joints especially."

Mr Sage said timber buildings were likely to have developed some new creaks and noises, but that was normal after a quake. Unless there were cracks in internal lining that were big enough to fit a little finger into, they were probably cosmetic.

Palmerston North head of civil defence and emergency management Stewart Davies said although damage in the city had been minimal, the earthquake had prompted more people to check their preparations for a disaster.

"We have had a number of requests for presentations. We were fortunate that it happened on a summer afternoon, and people coped well, but it would be very different in the middle of a winter night while people were in bed, and the windows starting breaking, and the power went off."

Manawatu Standard