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Quake latest: 61 Molesworth St demolition starts today

A quick summary of key developments.

Mon, 21 Nov 2016

Key developments: 

  • Demolition of the front part of the office building at 61 Molesworth St will begin today, Wellington City Council says. The demolition work was commissioned by the building's owner, NBR Rich Lister Eyal Aharoni and the first, most urgent work, on the unstable facade, will take around two weeks.

  • Welington City Council chief executive Kevin Lavery says strengthening work on the Reading Cinema complex car park will begin in the next few days.
  • A quiet weekend saw only two 4+ aftershocks.

  • Spark says it has now restored landline, broadband and mobile service to all bar 88 customers in Kiakoura and North Canterbury. The telco is waiting on repairs to Chorus lines before it can restore service to the reamining 88.

  • A second convoy of army trucks made it to Kaikoura on Sunday along Inland Rd (formerly State Highway 70) after initially being hampered by new slips. The six trucks brought food, water and other supplies for the New World supermarket plus diesel, petrol and LPG.

Image courtesy NZDF.

  • Some more good news:

  • A clearer picture is emerging of damage to Kaikoura. As of Sunday morning, 554 buildings had been inspected. 27 had been given red stickers, which means they are unsafe to enter, and 66 yellow, indicating there is restricted entry and they require further checks.

  • The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management has given Kaikoura District Council $1 million in earthquake emergency funding. The money will be used for rebuild and repair work while the council waits for insurance payments to come through.

  • Civil Defence Minister Gerry Browlee says the wage subsidy relief scheme may be expanded to companies with more than 20 staff, such as Kaikoura Whale Watch.

  • Mr Brownlee admits there are problems with the tsunami warning system following Monday's mixed messages and delays. Officials have told Mr Brownlee the alert system could  take up to 18 months to fix. He says that timeline is "not acceptable". During an interview, he would not directly address a GeoNet request for its tsunami alert and earthquake monitoring systems to be manned 27/4.

  • Ports of Auckland says it has reached an agreement with KiwiRail to lift freight capacity between Auckland and the lower North Island after Wellington's port was knocked about by the Kaikoura earthquake. The state-owned rail operator will provide a daily rail link between Auckland's port, its inland hub at Wiri, and Longburn on the outskirts of Palmerston North. Ports of Auckland stands to benefit from disruptions to Wellington's CentrePort if it can quickly offer another route for freight customers.

  • Wellington harbourmaster Mike Pryce has declared a sea-side restricted zone alongside Wellington's main wharves, which excludes boaties from the area following Monday's severe earthquake. Captain Price said in his notice today the exclusion zone will ensure public safety and allow undisturbed access for structural engineers to inspect the condition of the wharves.

  • Around 3500 Kaikoura residents have been told to stop flushing their toilets over fears it will strain the damaged sewerage system. About 900 chemical toilets have been flown in from frigates off the coast.

  • The small town of Waiau, south of Kaikoura, has suffered an outbreak of the contagious norovirus gastro bug.

  • Marlborough-based Foley Family Wines says it suffered $1 million+ damage to its wine tanks in Monday's quake. The NZX-listed operation is owned by NBR International Rich Lister Bill Foley, valued at $1.9 billion.

  • The government has followed up its $7.5 million wage subsidy for Kaikoura small businesses with a $5 million primary sector support package.

  • Wellington mayor Justin Lester tells NBR Radio that it will be at least three weeks until the full extent of the damage to buildings is known. The official estimate of damaged buildings has also been lowered to 10 from the earlier 60. However, chief executive Kevin Lavery says it's likely inspections will reveal more buildings that have to be cordoned off. "We do expect some more to be coming, to be frank," he says. "We’ll act swiftly, and that will mean cordoning areas off that are unsafe." The council boss says it's his preference to work with building owners on demolitions but "If we don’t get cooperation, we’ll look at using our own powers to do so." Listen to Mr Lavery's interview with NBR Radio's Grant Walker (free here on SoundCloud or in transcript here) for more on Wellingtonians' growing unrest as new cordons appear.

  • A large area of Courtenay Pl in central Wellington has been cordoned off and the Courtenay Central building, home to Reading Cinemas, shops and restaurants, evacuated. The Courtenay Central building has been judged structurally sound but there are fears the neighbouring car park could collapse. An apartment block at the adjacent 234 Wakefield St has also been evacuated. Mayor Justin Lester says the car park is probably beyond repair and will have to be demolished – with any vehicles remaining inside becoming collateral damage.

  • Mr Lavery tells NBR Radio that he is in talks with the government to try to get the same wage subsidy package for businesses in abandoned buildings in the capital as small business owners are being offered in Kaikoura.

  • GeoNet now says there is a 30% chance of a magnitude 7 to 7.8 quake in the next month.

  • BNZ has abandoned its Harbour Quays building, owned by CentrePort, and says it will take months rather than weeks to reopen. The bank has hired Fletcher Building to carry out remedial work. The move comes despite the fact that the building was cleared as structurally sound by CentrePort on Tuesday, having undertaken a series of upgrades in the wake of the 2013 Seddon quakes that closed the office. CentrePort's land showed signs of liquefaction after the quake and the government today kicked off an investigation into the performance of buildings, including Statistics House, which is also on the port's land and has come under close scrutiny over the damage it sustained. 

Image courtesy NZDF

  • A convoy of army trucks carrying relief supplies to Kaikoura (pictured above) has made it to the quake-hit town after being was stranded in Culverden by bad weather. 

  • Eight homes along an unstable Kaikoura cliff face have been abandoned as a precautionary measure.

  • A $7.5 million wage subsidy has been announced for quake-hit businesses with fewer than 20 staff who have exhausted private loss-of-earnings cover.

  • Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith says there will be an inquiry into the performance of buildings in Wellington, with a special focus on the relatively new Statistics House.

  • An 0800 779 997 Government Helpline has been activated to assist people needing financial and other support following the Kaikoura quake. The number will operate seven days a week from 7am to 9pm until further notice.

  • GeoNet director Ken Gledhill is pushing for a funding top-up to allow for 24/7 quake and tsunami monitoring. Dr Gledhill says although there are automated systems, a human presence is needed around the clock too. Currently, there are two staff on-call after hours but both have already worked a day shift. Dr Gledhill's request was the focus of a question from Labour's Clare Curran in Question Time today. The government's reply was distilled by Ms Curran as "maybe" and "some time." On Monday, the first tsnaumi update didn't arrive until around 45 minutes after the 12.02am quake — and it mistakenly said there was no tsunami threat.

  • The evacuation of Kaikoura is nearly complete. Yesterday, the HMS Canterbury delivered 440 people, and four dogs, to Lyttelton, and will return with supplies. A number of tourists and locals on a triage list were evacuated by helicopter. Water and supplies were air-dropped to those remaining in the quake-hit region.

  • About 200 tourists remain in the quake-hit area. Most are likely to be evacuated via SH70 to Culverden, which late yesterday was reopened – albeit with access restricted to military-style four-wheel-drive vehicles at this point.

Kaikoura evacuation image courtesy NZDF.

  • Geonet has upgraded Monday's 12.02am quake from 7.5 to 7.8 magnitude. The upgrade means stronger aftershocks are more likely (see GeoNet's latest probability table here). Weak aftershocks continue every few minutes.

  • Statistics NZ says it will be several months before staff are allowed back into the building it occupies on Wellington's waterfront. Concrete beams were ripped from the outside of the building causing the ceilings to partially collapse, owner CentrePort say.

  • New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) headquarters on Aitken St near Parliament, has also been closed as "uninhabitable" due to earthquake damage. The building houses about 1200 staff. Officials won't give a timeline but RNZ quoted one source as saying repairs would take at least a year.

  • The Queensgate Mall in Lower Hutt, which houses 182 shops, has been closed until at least the end of the week for quake damage assessment. The growing list of emptied buildings also includes the Tennyson Apartments on Tennyson St, a 40-apartment Ryman Healthcare retirement village in Khandallah and Justice House, where burst pipes caused water-logging.

  • Three foreign warships were expected off the Kaikoura coast on Thursday. They will be assisting with checks on smaller rural towns and delivering supplies. The international warships had been headed to the International Naval Review in Auckland. NZDF accepted offers from naval ships from the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan and Singapore to help with relief efforts. The USS Sampson, HMAS Darwin and HMCS Vancouver are now close to quake-hit areas, where their helicopters will help deliver supplies and evacuate people.

  • Finance Minister Bill English says the cost of infrastructure repairs will run into the single-digit billions. "The main arterial route for the North and South Islands is going to be significantly disrupted in parts for quite some time and the cost of restoring that will fall to the government, or quite a lot of it," he told a press conference yesterday. The Wellington and Picton ports will also require major repairs.

  • Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley says freight costs along affected routes have spiked 18%.

  • Spark, Vodafone and Chorus have joined forces on an "aqua cable" project to restore telecommunications services to Kaikoura but warn the work could take months.

  • Spark says it is waiving termination and moving fees (which can range up to $190) for those forced to move because of the quake. Along with its earlier free wi-fi, that's helping to make up for its 111 failure in the immediate aftermath of Monday's quake.

  • Privacy Commissioner John Edwards says visitors to quake-hit areas, where there have been a number of homes that have been looted, are not being required to carry photo ID as earlier reported in some publications. "The Police have reassured me that this is not the case, Locals, as well as tourists, travelling in the area may be asked  to discuss their travel intentions but there is no legal power to require a traveller to carry or produce photo ID beyond the usual requirement for drivers to show a valid driver's licence," Mr Edwards says.

  • New photos have revealed the extent the land has been scarred around quake-hit areas. See NBR's latest gallery below.

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Quake latest: 61 Molesworth St demolition starts today