Wellington buildings concerns grow

Concerns over more buildings in Wellington are growing with another building now being checked after reports it was heard to crack overnight.

This damage seems to be as a result of the distant M7.5 earthquake on early Monday morning (Christchurch was much closer), which as stated yesterday in Serious building problems in Wellington raises major questions about how well Wellington could withstand a large earthquake centred closer (there was a 8+ earthquake there in 1855).

The eight story building in Molesworth street is reported to be at risk of collapse and is “severely structurally compromised”.

RNZ: Beam in Molesworth Street building fractured ‘like a bone’ – Fire Service

Fire Service regional commander Brendan Nally said engineers doing a post-earthquake building check this afternoon found a major structural beam on the fifth floor had broken.

“A vertical beam in the building has been shorn, it looks somewhat like a broken bone in the leg, so it’s fractured through.

“So it’s a major supporting beam, it’s up above the fifth floor, so it’s the top four floors of the building [affected].”

Mr Nally called it a “clear structural failure”. The engineers declared the building unsafe, he said.

The beam was by the lift shaft. The building was under renovation and was empty.

Mr Nally said the affected area would remain sealed off until decisions were made tomorrow about what to do.

Molesworth Street runs past Parliament and the National Library. It connects to the motorway and is a major thoroughfare for commuter traffic.

The evacuated buildings included New Zealand Rugby, St Pauls Cathedral, the Thai Embassy and the Red Cross.

So significant disruption in that part of Wellington. And elsewhere:

Engineers have been inspecting nearly 50 earthquake-damaged buildings in the capital city, with some likely to be closed for weeks.

Yesterday people were asked to stay away from the CBD after several multi-storey buildings were damaged, and glass fell into streets, following the magnitude 7.5 quake centred near Hanmer.

Many of the damaged buildings were on reclaimed land on Wellington’s waterfront, including the BNZ and nearby Statistics New Zealand building.

The 500 staff who work in the Statistics NZ building were told they could not return for several months after one corner was damaged in the earthquake, affecting two floors.

Newstalk ZB have just reported that the creaking building was a false alarm.

Meanwhile there were serious concerns about another building in Wellington early this morning but that’s turned out to be a false alarm.

40 Taranaki Street was cordoned off just after 2am and firefighters raced to the scene.

Fire Service shift manager Jan Wills said someone from Calendar Girls reported creaking and hearing loud cracks. 


It’s understandable that people in downtown Wellington are wary of any signs of compromised buildings.

Why has our capital city been built on a major active fault line? And why have Government services been centralised and concentrated there?

It looks like a potentially huge disaster waiting to happen.

Leave a comment


  1. Is it time to move the government to Auckland?

    • I think it should be spread more. There is no need to have everything concentrated in one of the areas of highest risk for earthquakes – but also not in a volcanic risk zone either.

      Auckland is growing enough as it is without moving the Government and all it’s departments there as well, that would make the the land and housing situation worse.

      And it would effectively cut the regions off from the big smoke even more.

      • Gezza

         /  16th November 2016

        They wouldn’t have been aware of the subsurface geological and seismic landscape of NZ when Government was eventually sited in Welly. If they knew about plate tectonics & the complexity of the plate movements below here they’d almost certainly have chosen somewhere else.

        But where? The South Island gets as much of an earthquake battering as the North, & the Alpine Fault extends into the major fault systems right up the centre of the North Island, which has the added disadvantage of having all the currently-known current volcanic threats. The ports of the East Coast of the North and Maybe even the South islands are at risk of a megathrust at the plate boundary. A look at the history of major quakes in NZ shows some of the most severe have occurred on previously unknown faults or ‘minor’ ones and we now know if they’re shallow they can still devastate a pretty large region.

        Wellington main roads could so easily be cut off by landslides and fractures and the harbour entrance maybe even become too shallow for entry. In theory you could decentralise government departments given the internet and modern communications, but there are practical reasons for having them in proximity to the Government centre.

        Russell might be good?

        • The chilling question being asked in Wellington is what went wrong with the Statistics NZ building which is a modern building built to high engineering standards. It is claimed that the building has sunk into its foundations and will have to be demolished. How did this occur; who missed what? Kororareka would still need ferry services, and the far north has a lot of ancient volcanoes, and geothermal activity near Russel. Nelson would be a better choice.

          • Gezza

             /  16th November 2016

            Nelson got battered in 1848, from an earthquake on the Wairau Fault in Marlborough. Wellington got more of a battering from the same quake.

            I’m pretty dubious now about the safety of any building on reclaimed land here, Bj. Tbh although the seismologists as far as I know don’t say this, I’m getting quite nervous that earthquake stresses are slowly travelling North.

          • Gezza

             /  16th November 2016

            Let me correct that – I see the 1848 one is now believed to have happened on the Awatere Fault, further East in Marlborough. But Nelson/Tasman have faults too.

            Click to access NelsonTasman.pdf

            • Gezza, Hamilton has freezing fogs in winter, so it would be an appropriate place for MPs to hide away in! I have a son who is an expert engineer in high-rise construction based in Dubai where he has been involved in the supervision of some pretty big and valuable buildings (currently “‘The Museum of the Future” all built on sand, They are about to start the tallest building in the world there. Needless to say, his expertise has been developed in a NZ Engineering environment where earthquake prone structure was an essential item in his education. It is possible to build on reclaimed land, as long as it is done properly with substantial foundations designed for the individual circumstances.

              The idea is to build it once and build it properly. Unfortunately prospective owners want cheaper buildings and rely on insurance to protect their investment. That is where local and central government need to set the rules of the game for all of our protection. Cheap and safe don’t seem to go together. Incidentally, I worked on the 11th Floor of the Freyberg building that is now the Defence Building, and under engineering inspection following the earthquake. The roof had a false ceiling made up of plaster tiles that were not permanently fixed. In a fire or other emergency, because of my disabled status, I was assisted down to the 9th Floor in a wheeled stretcher, there to wait for a rescue squad. This happened at least once a month, and I do not blame the Defence Staff for being cautious about the structural integrity of the building that is in Molesworth Street.

  2. Goldie

     /  16th November 2016

    “Why has our capital city been built on a major active fault line? And why have Government services been centralised and concentrated there?”
    Because in the 1840s Wellington was in the middle of the country and had the best port (bearing in mind that in the 1840s the fastest form of transport was by sailing vessel).
    Most of NZ is on a fault line, so moving it won’t solve much.

  3. Goldie

     /  16th November 2016

    The failure of the Stats building is scandalous – it was a brand new building, and there is no way it should have failed the way it did.

  4. Gezza, sorry, we will need to look again as Hamilton is on the “most hazardous/quiye hazardous fault line area, according to their regional council. Have a squiz at the following site: http://www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/Services/Regional-services/Regional-hazards-and-emergency-management/Earthquakes/Earthquake-hazard-zones/.
    Unfortunately, its the liquefaction factor that is the problem (see notes in reference). Keep looking!

    • I see the same question was asked in 2011 in this article: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/4761061/Where-is-the-safest-place-to-live-in-NZ.

      Hamilton was suggested as a possibility but that did not look at the liquefaction problem that was behind the scale of destruction there. As you will see, the best place to go to get away from the shaky isles problem is to move to Kaitaia. However, you will need protection against tropical cyclones like the one I was in in 1957 where winds exceeded 240 km/hr, and really tropical thunderstorms and rain. And oh, you will need your own generator to act as a backup supply of electricity, access to separate water supply, and hope the sewerage system does not get flooded. Air NZ does not fly there, so be prepared for teeny wee planes, or long bus trips. No rail. The road stops at Cale Reinga, and the nearest port of size is in Whangarei exposed to about 60 volcanoes. Damn I thought I had a goer there for a while!


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