Families' calls for apologies over quake errors

DEADLY: The wreckage of a two-storey Colombo St building and remains of a smashed bus after the February 22, 2011, earthquake.
DEADLY: The wreckage of a two-storey Colombo St building and remains of a smashed bus after the February 22, 2011, earthquake.

Survivors and families of those who died in the February 2011 earthquake are calling for someone to apologise and be held accountable for deaths and injuries caused by collapsed buildings.

The call comes after Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker last week apologised for the city council's role in signing off the faulty Canterbury Television building.

A royal commission report released last week found that the six-storey building, which collapsed in the February 2011 quake, killing 115 people, should not have been granted a building permit by the council.

The commission released findings into 21 other buildings that killed 42 people in the quake.

Ann Brower, the sole survivor of Red Bus 702 in Colombo St, said Parker should apologise for errors the council had made.

It was "nice" quake survivors were invited to meet Prince Charles during his Christchurch visit, but an apology "would have been nicer", she said.

"There's never been an apology. Bob Parker was in a room surrounded by those of us who had been hurt very deeply by the earthquake, and there was no apology whatsoever," Brower said.

Parker said an apology for any other building was "premature" as in the CTV building case there was a "clear historic connection" to the council.

"If there are other cases where there is a similar liability then it may well be appropriate," he said.

David Stanley, whose father-in-law, Ross Bush, died in Riccarton Rd, said prosecutions should be considered and compensation paid if individuals or organisations were found to be at fault.

"If people are found to have acted negligently, there has to be consequences. In all walks of life, for every action there's a reaction, and certainly with this [Riccarton Rd] building, it was horrifying what went on," he said.

Council resource consents and building policy manager Steve McCarthy said staff worked "long, long hours" after the September 2010 quake to ensure buildings were safe.

"We apologise if we could have done more, but equally we did as much as we could," he said. "Another six months, we probably would have been much more on top of things, but we got caught by an earthquake event we didn't anticipate."

Brower, a senior lecturer in public policy at Lincoln University, said she would not be surprised if legal action was taken, but expected the bar would be set high.

"I wouldn't point the finger at any one person, but those who had the power and the information to do something, to prevent what happened, did nothing. If that's not culpability, I don't know what is."

Had the collapse happened in her native United States, Brower said, she would be a "very wealthy woman".


The man who testified more than anyone else at the Canterbury earthquakes inquiry is standing by Christchurch City Council safety measures after the September 2010 quake.

Council resource consents and building policy manager Steve McCarthy was a frequent sight at the hearings, giving evidence on all buildings the council was involved with.

He led the council effort to inspect, repair, barricade and reinforce damaged buildings after the 2010 quake.

The royal commission's findings pointed to cases of inadequate or absent barricades, repair and inspection work not followed up and the council's "passive" quake-prone building policy as factors in some deadly building collapses, but McCarthy backed his team's work.

"We maybe could have done more in some situations, but the reality was we did our very, very best.

"We worked for the benefit of the community. We did as much as we could do to try to protect the people."

He welcomed the commissioners' recommendation that building owners and engineers should be required to report quake damage more often - a measure that may have helped after September 2010.

The 382 Colombo St parapet wall that crashed into the building next door was one example, he said. "If the engineer was required to let us know what was going on we would have been much better informed and able to act."

About 7500 metres of cordons were put in place after September 2010, he said. "We did our best and probably saved a lot of people's lives, but there are cases where the cordons weren't far enough out or comprehensive enough."

On make-safe requests not being done or followed up, he said the size of the job made it difficult.

"They all came [due] at the end of January and we were following those up and that was occurring [right] through February. We had the whole city to deal with and we did the best we could with the resources we had."

The commissioners referred some building owners' failings to the council, but it was too early to say if any action would be taken, he said.

"There's certainly evidence that we didn't have at the time that suggests some buildings were occupied when they shouldn't have been, and other things."

McCarthy will deliver a report of the commissioner's findings to the council in February.

The Press