Serious concerns for building in central Wellington with beam ‘like a broken bone’


A large office block in Wellington is at significant risk of collapse with a major supporting beam “like a broken bone”.

A section of Molesworth St that includes Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, the National Library and NZ Rugby headquarters and the Thai embassy has been cordoned off, with people cleared from the area.

The office block at 61 Molesworth St has been vacant because of renovation work. An engineer involved approached the fire service today, concerned about a structural beam.

Fire Region Manager Brendan Nally said it was unlikely office workers and residents in buildings within the cordoned-off areas would be let in tomorrow.

“We have a clear structural failure. What’s caused that will be determined later.

“The clear structural failure is a major beam – a vertical beam in the building – has been shorn.

“It looks somewhat like a broken bone in the leg. It is fractured through. It is a major supporting beam. It is up above the fifth floor, so it is the top four floors.”

That assessment was being done using cellphone photos, the fire service said. The cordon was big enough so that if the building did collapse it would be contained within it.

The building looks to be about 10 stories tall.

Members of the Diplomatic Protection Squad (DPS) – normally accompanying the Prime Minister at neighbouring Parliament – were on the scene helping direct traffic at the Hill St intersection.

Corinne Ambler works in the New Zealand Red Cross situated next-door to the Molesworth Tower and said staff were told to evacuate immediately.

“It’s a bit more drama just to add to the earthquake, the flooding and the wind,” she said.

“The receptionist came running through every floor of the building saying ‘I’ve just been told that we have to evacuate, there’s a very tall build next door to ue… and that it could be in danger of collapsing on top of the NZ Red Cross building’.

“So we all as as fast as we could grabbed our stuff and we were out of the building in a couple of minutes, and we’re all standing out on the street here.”

Ambler said the building had “definitely slumped”.

“It’s a big building with two parts to it, there’s a concrete column… in between the concrete column and the rest of the building is like a glass conservatory and that you can definitely see has sunk, there are bits of glass and panes of glass missing.

“It’s lumped in the middle, if that concerete slab breaks away… then that could fall on top of our building.”

She said the building looked as though it was unoccupied, but food outlets and cafes at the bottom floor were rapidly moving their stock.

“There are a whole lot of small businesses, and cafes underneath it and just after we evacuated all the small business owners were parking their cars up out front and running their supplies into the boots of their cars, sacks of rice, food everything.”

The building is listed as an eight-story office tower with five small retail units and a reception at ground level, with space for parking on a first-floor podium.

According to the website of Archaus Architects, who were engaged to redevelop the commercial property, the renovation work would increase the rentable office area to about 1340m2 per typical office level, and increase the building height to 43.8m, providing an additional 2 levels.



Monday’s earthquake lifted seabed around Kaikoura ‘by at least a metre’, scientists confirm

Monday morning’s quake has lifted the seabed around Kaikoura by at least a metre, scientists have confirmed.

While a scientific rarity, it’s a phenomenon that those in the tourism industry are saying will spell doom for them and their jobs.

Local boat skipper Dean Kennedy said he’d never seen anything like it in his 50-odd years.

He was down at South Bay wharf today about 90 minutes before low tide making sure he was seeing correctly.

He said the explanation was simple – and it wasn’t good.

Aerial photographs taken showing tectonic uplift of the sea bed of between 2 and 2.5 metres north of Kaikoura. Photo / Twitter / @TonkinTaylor 

“Our summer is buggered. We’re all out of a job pretty much.”

Kaikoura was dependent on tourists and fish, including crayfish, and there wouldn’t be any of them around for a few months, he said.

“Normally it’s busy, flat out. There are four whale watching boats, three charter fishing boats and three dolphin-watching boats … and long weekends and Christmas we get recreational fishing boats from Christchurch.”

But now, instead of diving for paua, the seafood beds had been left exposed by the rise in the sea floor.

Niwa marine geologist Dr Joshu Mountjoy said it appeared the Hundalee Fault, running out from Oaro, was responsible for uplifting large stretches of the coastline. Photo / File 

All the kaimoana that’s in that zone is going to die, probably and even the stuff that moves down that’s not the environment it likes to live in.

Dean Kennedy, boat skipper

“Normally where we go diving people are walking out and picking them up.

“All the kaimoana that’s in that zone is going to die, probably and even the stuff that moves down that’s not the environment it likes to live in.”

Mayor Winston Gray admits the seabed rising will be a challenge for the harbour and the local tourism industry.

Dusky dolphins off the coast of Kaikoura. Photo / Whalewatch

“It’s changed the landscape. It appears that our ground has lifted, some say, up to a metre, we will find out later but it’s distinct, you can see it from the shore.

“So it’s a millennial change, I guess.”

The tourism industry was vital to the region and they had to work out a way to get on top of it, he said.

“That’s an issue, the sea bed raise, we’ve got the bay with our harbour, I believe there’s boats there that will be a challenge to get out on the water … but we just have to get on.”

This summer had been looking like their busiest yet.

“We were looking at our best season ever … had this happened any time between Christmas and May we would have had double the amount of people in town, and some.”

Civil Defence controller James Mackie described the seismic shift as “staggering”.

Slips on the coastal road south out of Kaikoura. Photo / Mike Scott

There was a half metre uplift on the hills around Christchurch during the quakes, he said, leaving the city “tilted”.

Dr Joshu Mountjoy, a marine geologist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said it appeared that the Hundalee Fault, running out from Oaro, was responsible for uplifting large stretches of the coastline.

“Some faults go side-to-side and that was very clear with the Kekerengu Fault – we’ve seen offsets of about 10m horizontally – but some faults move vertically, and in this case, the fault has pushed the land up into the air, and it appears to be by about a metre,” he said.

This effect was normally seen all along the east coast of the South Island and of the North Island – albeit across a much longer timescale.

“A lot of coastal terraces reflect that long-term uplift and some of these are on a deep-seated subduction zone and sometimes it can be on a local fault that’s not far off the shore,” Mountjoy said.

“There are indications that both of these things happen in New Zealand, and in this case, I wouldn’t like to be specific about what’s causing it at the moment.”



Further Updates and Events:

• Aftershocks have rumbled through the night and into this morning. There have been more than 860 since the 7.5 Kaikoura earthquake, GeoNet says.

• Heavy rain warning for Wellington with 50-60mm forecast for this morning and gale-force winds in exposed parts of the capital. Three key roads have been closed in the region by flooding, disrupting commuters

• Civil Defence groups have sent people into Kaikoura to help with the response and Government agencies were supporting Civil Defence groups.

• The Chinese Government chartered a helicopter to get Chinese nationals out of Kaikoura.

• It will be a couple of days’ work to get the inland road to Kaikoura oepn to one lane. The coastal road is “a more challenging prospect”.

• In Wellington, people are being told to use commonsense when in the central city today.

• Some buildings are still being assessed and areas, particularly around Featherston St, are still cordoned off.

• Parliament will sit as usual at 2pm and PM John Key is likely to open the day’s business with a statement on the impact of the earthquake and the government’s plans to repair the widespread damage it caused.

Tourists wait to get helicoptered out of Kaikoura after the Chinese government was instrumental in securing passage for the them. Photo / Mike Scott 

• Rail passenger services are expected to return to normal in the Wellington region today following yesterday’s large quakes – see more details in the live blog below.

• 600 people stayed at a marae in Kaikoura. HMNZS Canterbury is on its way from Auckland to also help evacuate 1100 stranded tourists. It is expected to start this job first light tomorrow.

• Kaikoura is severely damaged with problems around communications, roads, water and sewage. Last night the Marlborough District Council said there was three days’ water left.

• Power is intermittent, fuel supplies are limited and Kaikoura’s hospital is at capacity.

• There have been many landslides, and a number of dams have now formed.

• St John kept its National Crisis Coordination Centre operating overnight in Auckland. It says patients are being moved out of Kaikoura as needed.

• Yesterday morning’s devastating 7.5 quake claimed the lives of at least two people. Thousands of others miraculously escaped injury.