Wellington picking up the pieces post quake

Last updated 17:19 22/07/2013
Fairfax NZ

Urban Search and Rescue teams in action checking the Wellington CBD for damage.

Wellington back to business

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.

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Wellington has been declared open for business again by the city's leaders after last night's magnitude-6.5 earthquake.


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Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said at a press briefing this afternoon thousands of buildings in the city had been assessed and about 35 had external damage, such as broken masonry or windows.

Cordons would remain in place on Featherston St, largely because of danger of falling windows, and Wade-Brown said there was no timeframe for their removal at this stage.

Wade-Brown said if employers were happy their buildings were safe, workers could go back into the office tomorrow.

She said Wellington has its own volunteer student army, which people could join via Facebook.

Greater Wellington chairperson Fran Wilde said Wellington ports would be open for business again tonight, and despite some water damage in buildings it would not stop them operating.

GNS scientist Dr Ken Gledhill said the probability of a magnitude 6 or bigger earthquake in the next day had dropped down from 7 per cent and the chances of a big quake happening in next week was down to 19 per cent.

At its maximum point last night, the quake was 14 per cent the force of gravity - by comparison, the Canterbury quake was double the force of gravity.

Gledhill said the aftershocks were following a normal, downward trend.

CITY DEALING WITH QUAKE: PM

Despite taking an emotional toll, the quake had not caused "tremendously significant" damage, Prime Minister John Key said this morning.

Key said: "the city has come through it very well, from what we can see."

Comments from GNS science that there was a possibility the quakes could set off a larger quake on the Wellington fault have been no comfort at all.

The 6.5 quake, which struck at 5.09pm, was the strongest of a swarm that were centred in Cook Strait. Four people had suffered minor injuries, while reports of damage have flowed in to authorities.

Aftershocks have continued ever since, with new ones every few minutes.

A magnitude 5.2 quake centred 25 kilometres east of Seddon at a depth of 9km was felt sharply in the capital at 10.47am.

"It is a very traumatic and people are fearful of the unknown," Key said.

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However, it was important to realise each earthquake was different and Sunday's quake was very different to the Canterbury quakes, which were shallower and "very powerful."

He also played down the impact of the 6.5 quake on the Government's finances, saying the event was "well and truly within the Government's means."

Although the Earthquake Commission's funds had been "run down to zero" as a result of claims following the Canterbury disaster, Key said the Crown would make up any shortfall.

It was too early to put a cost on the damage, or if it will stymie National's goal of getting back to surplus by 2014/15.

"In reality the Government just tops that [EQC] fund up as and when it is required," he explained.

CHRISTCHURCH LESSONS

Both Key and civil defence regional controller Bruce Pepperell said lessons have been heeded about building inspections in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes.

"I think people can be assured that we have learned the lessons of Christchurch very well," Pepperell said.

"The quake was very different...our buildings are a lot stronger here. We are erring on the side of caution here.

"We understand that we have an obligation to our community here and we understand that we'll never get back to normal around here until they have a degree of confidence and so we are very keen to exercise that wisely."

Last night's tremor was about a third of what a new building in Wellington was designed to handle, according to the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ).

"Although last night's 6.5 tremor was similar in magnitude to the Canterbury earthquakes, it was less shallow so buildings behaved differently,'' IPENZ chief executive Andrew Cleland said.

Internal fixtures coming loose were generally not a sign of structural issues, he said. More of the damage seemed to be broken windows and internal fixtures shaking loose.

NO RULING OUT A STRONGER QUAKE

Seismologists were still working to pinpoint which fault line the current swarm of earthquakes were taking place on.

John Ristau from GNS Science said he and the team of seismologists were working through all of the current data to get an accurate location for the quakes.

"There are a number of active faults in the area, it's an issue because they are offshore so it's difficult to get the most accurate location we can."

Pinning down the relevant fault could take a couple of days, with about four faults running through the Cook Strait considered possibilities.

"Or it could be a brand new fault we don't know about as yet."

The Wellington Fault, which runs through the Hutt Valley, did extend into the Cook Strait and was being looked at closely.

"It's not the same one, but when you get a large earthquake it can increase or decrease stress on nearby faults. They all interact."

The possibility of the current swarm setting off a larger earthquake along the Wellington fault could not be discounted.

"We don't know for sure but we can't entirely rule out the possibility."

Central New Zealanders could experience aftershocks for days, GNS said.

SUPPLIES RUNNING LOW

Stock from Palmerston North supermarkets has been trucked to Wellington to replenish quickly depleting shelves.

Bottled water was becoming scarce as Wellingtonians rushed to supermarkets and petrol stations to stock up.

Since last night, people have cleared the shelves of emergency kit supplies including batteries, torches, candles and tinned food.

Several BP and Z petrol stations ran out of bottled water last night and were still without stock this morning as they waited for delivery trucks.

BP spokesman Jonty Mills said several Wellington city and suburban stations ran out of water following last night's 6.5  quake.

"Water delivery is scheduled throughout the day and we're keeping a close eye on all stock.''

Fuel supplies haven't been affected by panic shoppers, probably because a lot of people are out of town with school holidays, he said.

"The panic buying reports are around demand for water and candles.

Z stations, particularly in the suburbs of Miramar and Johnsonville, were also experiencing high demand for water and food.

Supermarkets were also flat out and Kilbirnie Pak 'n Save was also waiting on water deliveries.

A spokesman said the store was "cleaned out" of large bottled water last night and there was only one pallet of 750ml bottles left in stock.

Batteries, torches and hand sanitiser were also on high demand, which is similar to the stock that ran low following the Christchurch earthquakes.

There were also reports of hardware stores dealing with increased customers buying cans to store water and tools to fasten heavy household items to the wall. 

BUSY TIME FOR DOCTORS

Wellington's accident and medical clinic had a 50 per cent increase in patients today after four practices closed because of earthquake concerns, NZ Doctor magazine reported.

An extra nurse, an additional receptionist and two doctors bolstered staff, Wellington Accident & Acute Medical Centre general manager Nicky Bradley said.

''We're fine, and up and running with no damage," and earthquake preparedness had been well and truly tested, she said.

Aotea Pathology was closed, so samples were sent to Wellington Regional Hospital laboratories.

Four people were seen last night at Wellington Regional Hospital with minor injuries, Capital & Coast DHB said.

All were believed to have been discharged, senior communications adviser Kim Whitaker said.

WALL, ROAD SLUMP INTO SEA

A 15 square metre 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.''

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.

FIRST LIGHT REVEALS DAMAGE

First light revealed the extent of damage on Featherston St.

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

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

Three carpark buildings remained closed -  James Smith carpark, Reading Cinema Courtenay, and one on the corner of Victoria and Willis Sts. The carpark at Westpac Stadium was also being checked.

Wellington City Council buildings in the civic complex were structurally fine, but there were some further checks of sprinklers happening this afternoon.
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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.

Police had retracted reports of sinkholes in Featherston St, with civil defence spokesman Neville Brown saying there were only indentations in the footpath.

'100 HIROSHIMA BOMBS'

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."

GRAPHIC: SHAKE MAP

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