Resident's explosive liquefaction research

BIG BANG: Martin Howman detonates 390kg of explosives under his former neighbours' Avondale homes.
BIG BANG: Martin Howman detonates 390kg of explosives under his former neighbours' Avondale homes.

Martin Howman's neighbours have long since moved out, which is just as well because yesterday he exploded 390kg of gelignite under some of their properties.

Howman, 70, is the only resident remaining on his red-zoned Avondale street and has enjoyed the quiet since the last neighbour left well over a year ago.

Yesterday, he had the honour of setting off the latest blasts as part of a joint $4 million research project spearheaded by the Earthquake Commission.

The research is aimed at finding effective ground improvement methods to combat liquefaction in the event of future seismic activity. Explosives were buried under the earth and set off to stimulate the watery, grey-brown silt that plagued Canterbury during the earthquakes.

The final hurdle was seeing how those techniques reacted when a home was set on top of the ground.

The results, if successful, would lead to the first measures to protect people's houses in the event of an earthquake and could help EQC settle land claims.

Many organisations had contributed to the ground-breaking research, including Housing New Zealand, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, the New Zealand Transport Agency and the National Science Foundation in the United States.

Howman said when people first started moving out he thought he might buy a tractor and some cows and revert the land back to dairy farm. Now, however, he has to be out by January and is moving out to Southshore to be closer to his family.

The Press