Miracle on Cuba St: How Wellington's most earthquake-prone street dodged a bullet
With 42 earthquake-prone buildings and countless cornices, festoons and decorative lion heads, a lot of people thought Wellington's Cuba St would be hit hardest by a big quake.
Many might have expected a repeat of the devastation of Cashel Mall in Christchurch, but Cuba St shoppers returned after only 48 hours to find the shops open, the buskers busking and the masonry mercifully in place.
New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering president Peter Smith said the distance from the epicentre was key to Cuba's survival.
"Stiff buildings get the high intensity shaking when you're close to the epicentre, but as the waves travel that energy is lost and it's the more flexible buildings that find the energy affecting them."
Cuba St was not out of trouble yet, however, if an aftershock was to hit closer to home.
"If you happen to be in one of those buildings during an aftershock stay put - do not rush out of the building," Smith said.
"In Christchurch, people weren't usually hurt in the buildings, most were people who rushed out of buildings and the facade came down. That's the big risk, facade failure. If you're walking on the pavement, get into a doorway."
Wellington City councillor Andy Foster said there were plenty of buildings that still needed to be strengthened on Cuba St.
Earthquake-prone buildings are given a timeframe to complete work, and Foster said property owners should not delay as this would lead to a rush in a decade's time when the majority hit deadline.
Two-thirds of the earthquake prone buildings on Cuba are classed as Heritage buildings.
From its James Smith's Victorian-era department store to the Edwardian Baroque styling of the Bank of New Zealand building, Cuba St was among the most heritage-intensive areas in the country, Heritage New Zealand spokeswoman Alison Dangerfield said.
Buskers have been essential to Cuba St's character for decades. One of these is Dutchman Bram Jansen, who has been travelling the country for three months and said Cuba St was one of the best locations he had played.
Wellingtonian Joel Ruys said Cuba St was a favourite haunt of his simply for the number of people he would run into on a daily basis.
"When the sun's out I come out as well. I can't help feel like an observer, I don't know how I would feel if Cuba St was destroyed," he said.
Gussie Larkin flew back into Wellington yesterday, in the early morning, after living in Melbourne.
For her, Cuba St held many memories - good and bad - but she was relieved to find the place still standing.
"Life goes on, you can't think about it too much," she said.
Cuba St is well known for its op-shops, and Paper Bag Princess manager Jacquie Fee said shoppers did not need to worry, with a couple of frames and mannequins the only victims of the quake.
Hunters and Collectors owner Christina O has run the business on Cuba St for 30 years.
"It would have been depressing if Cuba had been destroyed, there's nothing more to say," she said.
Slow Boat Records, another institution, has supplied records and CDs to musos for over three decades.
Manager Jeremy Taylor said he was terrified to find out the state of the shop after the quakes, and could not believe his ears when the owner said the worst of it was a few fallen CDs.
Farmers department store was among the few shops still closed on Monday. Chief financial officer Michael Power said the company was considering engineering assessments to ascertain the building's strength.
He said no strengthening work had been completed after the building was closed for over a month following the 2013 Seddon earthquakes, which rattled Wellington.
"We will remain closed until we are satisfied that it is safe for our staff and customers to re-enter. We are not aware of any damage as a result of the recent earthquake activity," he said.