Cars still 'trapped' in quake-hit parking buildings

PAUL EASTON AND ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2013
Fairfax NZ

Wellingtonians talk about the recent run of strong earthquakes.

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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Cordons continue along Wellington's Featherston St while some central city parking buildings have turned into car prisons, following Sunday's 6.5-magnitude quake.

The central city came back to life yesterday but there were still some visual reminders of the earthquake.

A dozen buildings in Featherston St remained cordoned off because of the dangers of loose masonry and glass, forcing pedestrians to zigzag across the road to navigate it.

Three parking buildings were shut down after the quake - at Reading Courtenay, James Smith and Victoria St - leaving about 1500 parking spaces out of action.

Care Park operations manager Chris Tchernegovski said 75 cars were stuck inside the Reading building while a thorough engineering inspection was being done.

"I can certainly understand the frustration of those car owners, but our No 1 priority is safety."

Lower Hutt man Bill Sheat said he was still waiting to claim his Toyota Corolla from the Reading building yesterday. "They said it would be at least tomorrow [Wednesday] before I get it back, so I'm not pushing my luck."

A Tournament Parking spokeswoman said a handful of cars were stuck inside its car park at the James Smith Centre while inspections were being done.

In central Wellington, returning workers admitted to a few nerves but were positive about the city's recovery.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said all civic buildings had been declared free of damage except for the portico link between the council offices and Wellington Library. The link would be torn down in April or May next year.

Wellington's Central Library will be closed from this morning, and may remain so for at least two days, while loose plaster render is removed from some of the pillars.

Police, fire and urban search and rescue had been stood down to return to normal duties, Wade-Brown said.

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

HERITAGE BUILDING TOO DAMAGED FOR TENANTS TO RETURN

Earthquake damage has forced a government agency out of its heritage-listed central Welllington building, and driven the Greater Wellington Regional Council to speed up its relocation plans.

Creative New Zealand left its offices in the 1909 Old Public Trust Building in Stout St yesterday and says it will not return.

The building is part-owned by the agency and houses its head office, a legal chambers, a sports medicine centre, a tailor and a Trelise Cooper store. The law offices and Capital Sports Medicine have also left.

It is Category 1 listed by the Historic Places Trust as "a superb example of a public and commercial building of the Edwardian period" which has "special or outstanding value".

It is on the Wellington City Council's list of earthquake-prone buildings and was yellow-stickered, meaning it needed strengthening work.

Creative NZ senior manager of planning, performance and stakeholder relations Sarah Tebbs said engineers had decreed the offices could not be used again.

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There were cracks in the walls, exposing brickwork, and a lot of plaster had fallen, she said.

The organisation's communications manager, Helen Isbister, said the full extent of the damage was not yet clear, but Creative NZ would not be going back.

Engineers Dunning Thornton said more structural investigation needed to be done, but occupation was not recommended, she said. The building was damaged from the ground floor up and it was too early to say how much it might cost to restore.

At the building yesterday, Creative NZ staff were recovering items from the office. They refused to be interviewed.

In 2011, Creative NZ was told the building, which it part-bought in the early 1990s, needed $1.5 million strengthening work.

Trelise Cooper licensee Penny Barnett said she had been told her shop was safe by engineers and would remain open.

The regional council offices in Wakefield St were also a known earthquake risk, and the council planned to move to Shed 39 on the waterfront by November.

However, after Sunday's earthquake "compromised" the stairwells and burst water pipes, chief executive Dave Benham said the move would begin immediately, and at least half of the 280 staff would be shifted within the next two weeks.

The ground floor and reception will remain open to the public.

FRUSTRATING WAIT

The Featherston Bar & Grill was one of those buildings. Owner Russel Scott said it had been a frustrating couple of days waiting for 15 broken windows to be removed.

The job was going to take about a week but he planned to open for business again today by getting customers in through the back door in Johnston St.

"We're not expecting to do much business, to be frank, but we've got a lot of loyal customers and we'll be in touch with them through social media."

The financial cost of having been closed since Sunday night was "substantial" but he was thankful the only damage inside was a bit of chipped paint.

"Not even one bottle of liquor toppled over . . . if this is the worst we have to put up with, then so be it. At least no-one got hurt."

Out of the 2500 buildings in the CBD, 35 were found to have external damage.

Shed 39 has just completed strengthening work, but the interior still needs to be fitted out. The council will work around that until completion, expected in November.

Staff will also work from the Masterton and Hutt Valley offices and depots.

Benham said the Wakefield St building was no worse structurally than it was before the quake, and it was safe to use the ground floor and reception, but not the stairs.

"Fundamentally, they are compromised. There is work which could be done to make them safe . . . but we believe it is sensible to move people from the building."

The BNZ building, on Harbour Quays, remains shut, having suffered internal damage. It is not known when it could reopen.

The Statistics New Zealand building in the same area will reopen today.

- The Dominion Post

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