Nearly three weeks after the massive 7.1 magnitude Canterbury earthquake, dozens of Timaru staff were evacuated from two central city buildings.
Both the Aoraki Development Trust (ADT) building on the corner of Stafford and Strathallan streets and Community House in Strathallan St were closed at lunchtime yesterday after cracks in the two chimneys on ADT's side of the building were found.
Community Trust of Mid and South Canterbury general manager John Wilson said he understood someone had spotted the cracks, which led to the chimneys being checked by an insurance assessor this week.
ADT chief executive Wendy Smith said three staff members were relocated to Central South Island Tourism in George St, while the rest went home to work.
"One of the major issues for us was moving our Straight 2 Work programme," she said.
She said the 12 students were relocated "literally in five minutes" to a room at Cafe Heartland.
On Tuesday, staff were able to work in some parts of the building, but were told yesterday there was a "greater risk" and needed to leave, she said.
Mrs Smith expected staff would be able to return to their office tomorrow, while Mr Wilson said Community House could be open by this afternoon.
Engineers will today continue to remove the two-tonne chimneys brick by brick with the help of a crane. Mr Wilson said Community House itself was safe and had been earthquake-strengthened before the community groups moved in at the end of 2006.
It had received good engineering reports and had met all the required standards, he said.
Closing the building yesterday was simply a "common sense approach".
"It's just a fact of life, it's a sad reality. What we are doing is being very, very careful and making sure that the people in our building are safe. We do not want people in our building while they shift the chimneys."
Community House has 23 offices as well as interview and meeting rooms. It was officially opened in March 2007 in what was the old Pyne Gould Guinness building.
As of yesterday morning, the Earthquake Commission (EQC) had received 1252 claims from Timaru. An EQC spokesman said they did not have an indication of the cost involved because calculations had not been done yet.
He said EQC was dealing with the claims "on a priority basis" and was not sure how long it would take to assess them all.
Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew will host a public meeting in Timaru on Saturday to give people further information about claims, how to spot damage if it isn't immediately obvious, and other queries in relation to the earthquake. The meeting will be held upstairs at the SBS Events Centre at 11am.
- The Timaru Herald