Quake risk shuts 60 Wellington buildings

11:15 pm on 16 November 2016

A large office block in central Wellington will be demolished as a result of damage sustained in Monday morning's earthquake, but it is not yet known when that might take place.

The 10-storey building - at 61 Molesworth Street - was cordoned off yesterday after engineers doing post-quake checks discovered a major structural beam had fractured "like a bone".

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester estimated about 60 buildings in Wellington were now closed as a result of the earthquake.

But Wellington City Council building compliance and consent manager Mike Scott said the city had held up "extremely well", given the size of the shake.

He said there had been a "perfect storm" in the city in the past 56 hours with the earthquake, rain, high winds and a king tide.

Mr Lester said the council would help provide beds for those who needed it with friends and family and in student accommodation.

It was possible there would need to be more building closures as the engineers completed their rounds of the city, he said.

Civil Defence said the unoccupied office building on Molesworth St had severe structural damage and was at risk of collapse.

A large cordon is in place around the 36m-high block and those living and working in buildings nearby are being kept away.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has confirmed its staff will not return to its Wellington headquarters, Freyberg House, which is around the corner on Aitken Street.

Freyberg House (also known as Defence House) in Wellington

Freyberg House - also known as Defence House - on Aitken Street, Wellington Photo: RNZ / Aaron Smale

It is believed the 1200 staff have been told they will not be able to return for a year because of quake damage.

The building was opened in 2007 and documentation from its architects shows it was built to "high seismic and security standards".

A spokesperson said engineers were assessing the building, which is also known as Defence House, and a report was expected by the end of the week.

Some defence staff are working temporarily in the Old Freyberg Building, behind Freyberg House in Aitken Street.

A cordon was placed around the separate defence office on Thordon Quay this morning because of superficial damage to flashing outside. They were let back in after two hours.

Mr Lester said currently there was no risk to members of the public in the area around Defence House.

Apartments evacuated

On the other side of the Wellington CBD, the Fire Service has evacuated about 40 residents at the Tennyson Apartments.'

Emergency service outside Tennyson Apartments on Tennyson St, Wellington. The apartments have been evacuated because of structural damage.

Emergency service outside Tennyson Apartments on Tennyson St, Wellington. The apartments have been evacuated because of structural damage. Photo: RNZ / Aaron Smale

A spokesperson for the service, Michael Wanoa, said it was called about 11.30am after engineers deemed the building unsafe.

Resident Barry Saunders said he was waiting on an update on what was happening.

"Word has been coming down that entry would not be allowed, but what the real facts are we hope to find out [soon]. I know nothing, other than we can't get in."

Mathew Lee works at an architectural firm on Tennyson Street, and said his company had to get out of its offices because of the risk posed by the apartment block next door.

"The Fire Service and police showed up and started cordoning off the street and evacuating the building, firstly, the apartment building itself and then the buildings next door.

"We were able to remove all our computers and server and hard drives and what not just in case this is going to be a long-term thing."

Other nearby buildings were also evacuated, including an early childhood education centre.

Retirement village evacuated over damage concerns

Forty apartments at Malvina Major Retirement Village in the suburb of Khandallah were also evacuated, after engineers found potential quake-related damage.

Ryman Healthcare operates the village, and its managing director, Simon Challies, said the residents in its Figaro building had been evacuated as a precaution.

Most of them had been relocated to Ryman's Bob Scott Village in Petone, or were staying with family, he said.

A full assessment was likely to take two weeks.

Lower Hutt mall closed

One of Wellington's regional shopping malls is expected to be shut until at least the end of the week as a result of the earthquakes.

The Queensgate Mall in Lower Hutt, which has three floors and 182 shops, was closed yesterday and cordoned off to the public.

Structural engineers were assessing the site.

A spokesman for the mall's owners, Peter Alexander, said the mall would be closed until at least the end of the week for inspections.

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