Inquest into CTV deaths disrupted by aftershocks

DAVID WILLIAMS
Last updated 05:00 14/06/2011

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Powerful aftershocks made grieving families of Christchurch earthquake victims flee a building where an inquiry into their loved ones' deaths was being held.

Relatives of victims, lawyers and media scurried from the Riccarton Racecourse building after yesterday's 5.5-magnitude earthquake.

The quake struck during the lunch break of an inquest into the deaths of 106 people killed in Christchurch's CTV building. The six-storey building collapsed and caught fire in February's earthquake, killing 115 people.

Only five minutes into the inquest's afternoon session, a 6.0-magnitude aftershock hit, sparking another evacuation.

Waikato coroner Gordon Matenga has adjourned the hearing until further notice.

Chief Coroner's Office spokesman Steve Corbett said the building's safety could not be guaranteed and the coroner was mindful of the families' state of mind.

Rattled and emotional relatives of earthquake victims spoke to media between earthquakes, speaking of their pain and resolve, while nervously eyeing the Riccarton Racecourse's sloping roof.

Mike Berry, whose sister, Marion Hilbers, died when the building collapsed, said aftershocks were "terrible reminders".

However, experiencing aftershocks was not necessarily harder for those who had lost relatives, he said.

"There's a lot of people hurting. Before February was bad enough; after February I don't think there's anyone in Christchurch, or even New Zealand, that doesn't know someone that's been affected." Berry's wife, Lesley, said such a tragedy should never happen again.

"We should never lose that many people in a building like this in an earthquake, in this day and age," she said.

Berry and other families had hired a lawyer to get answers from a royal commission later in the year.

Brian Kennedy, whose wife, Faye, had worked at The Clinic on the CTV building's fourth floor, said if the building's collapse was due to human error he would want a public apology.

"We're not after a lynch mob or anything ridiculous like that.

"You may have felt that on [February] 22nd but we've had 3 1/2 months to reflect and it's been tough, but that's what I think personally – what I would want is a public apology."

Dr Maan Alkaisi, whose wife Dr Maysoon Abbas worked at The Clinic, said hearing details of how the victims were killed was "very, very hard" and "you don't want this to happen again".

Detective Inspector Paul Kench, who gave the police evidence at the inquest, recalled the desperate rescue effort at the CTV building.

"It's my understanding that they were actually pulling out people relatively quickly, one after the other." Representing the families, Marcus Elliott said they wanted to know as much as possible about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones.

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"That's both for their own peace of mind and in the hope that such information can be used to ensure that such a tragedy doesn't happen again.

"In particular, they'd like to know about the design and construction of the CTV building as well as the nature and effectiveness of any assessment of it and of any remedial work carried out on it after the September 4 earthquake and the December 26, 2010, aftershock."

Several relatives asked the coroner to formally note that their family members' death was caused by the collapse of the CTV building in the earthquake.

The coroner said why the building collapsed and why it was deemed safe to be occupied would be covered by a royal commission.

- The Press

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