Time running out for Wellington to reinforce buildings

In February 2017, the Government set a deadline of the end of February 2018 for Wellington buildings with unreinforced masonry to have done appropriate strengthening work. With less than 6 months to go, not one of the 98 building owners singled out have completed the work and Wellington City Council is starting to get uncomfortable about it.

The deadline was imposed in the wake of the Kaikoura earthquake which affected numerous buildings in Wellington. A few have had to be demolished. Others have had to be closed whilst urgent strengthening work is done. Some needed cosmetic repairs and were able to open again relatively quickly.

But there are 98 building owners out there who – if an earthquake struck Wellington dead on tomorrow – would be in breach of their duty of care to anyone walking past their building should it collapse. In fact the building does not even need to collapse. Below are photos I took of quake damaged parapets in Christchurch after the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes. All of these buildings shown below were red stickered  – i.e. they had suffered damage that meant it was not safe to enter.

39 of the 185 people killed on or as a result of the 22 February 2011 aftershock were struck by collapsing parapets. These parapets might not have been initially weakened in the first aftershocks following the 04 September 2010 earthquake. However by the time the aftershock sequence reached February 2011 there would have been thousands including numerous magnitude 5.0+ aftershocks, all of which would have contributed to their weakened state.

This building was red stickered on 04 September 2010 and was demolished on 24 February 2011.

Damage to building front. Note the cracks below the damaged masonry. (R. Glennie)

The tragic consequences. One of the 39 deaths happened here.

I understand that it will be expensive and that this is a burden on building owners. Perhaps, but you knew when you purchased this building – if you did you homework – that it would be vulnerable in an earthquake. Now, having had two magnitude 7.0+ events causing significant damage in a decade, surely you have noticed the public mood for accountability has changed?

The engineer who checked the building that collapsed in the bottom photo must have trouble sleeping at night in the knowledge he said it was safe, not once, but twice – even when there were staff walking around in the building with hard hats on. Perhaps it is because the Sunday programme exposed what happened and people want answers.

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