19 Nov 2016

'We have no work pants or shoes'

9:58 pm on 19 November 2016

Natasha Frewin is living out of a backpack.

The Treasury worker and her partner, Jack, live in a central Wellington apartment that was evacuated on Thursday over safety concerns about a severely damaged carpark nearby.

She had been staying with friends since. The Wellington City Council is yet to say if the Courtenay Place carpark will be demolished.

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Authorities on Courtenay Place, where a carpark next to Reading Cinemas was seriously damaged. Photo: RNZ / Aaron Smale Photo: RNZ / Aaron Smale

Other apartment dwellers and businesses have been allowed to return to their homes and businesses.

Residents of the Maison Cabriole apartments, on Courtenay Place, cannot do so yet.

Natasha Frewin, central Wellington resident evacuated because of safety concerns about nearby carpark building.

Natasha Frewin. Photo: LinkedIn

Ms Frewin had not heard from the council and had no idea how long she needed alternative accommodation. According to the council's chief executive, for some it could be weeks.

She said the worst part was having no warning.

"We have no work pants or shoes other than sneakers, or the small basics that you take for granted like having more than one change of clothes, or a coat. Just all of the little things."

Maison Cabriole apartments, 12-60 Courtenay Place, Wellington

Residents of the Maison Cabriole apartments cannot yet return home. Photo: Screenshot / GoogleMaps

Demolition will take a fortnight

Wellington City Council chief executive Kevin Lavery said the demolition of a 10-storey building at 61 Molesworth Street was expected to be completed within a fortnight.

The building was cordoned off after it sustained major damage in Monday's magnitude 7.8 quake. The council said it needed to be demolished, or at least partially demolished.

The council would find out if it could save a listed mural in the foyer.

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61 Molesworth Street in Wellington. One of the building's main support beams snapped in half after Monday's magnitude 7.8 quake. Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

The concrete mural, by contemporary artist Jim Allen, is 20 metres long, three metres high and made up of three concrete squares.

The seriously damaged carpark next to Reading Cinemas, in Courtenay Place, would be secured while it was decided whether it would be saved or demolished.

Public safety was paramount, he said.

Mr Lavery said engineers could only work so fast to assess how badly earthquake-hit buildings were damaged.

As of yesterday, three buildings were known to have serious structural damage and 16 were being checked.

Cordons are in place on Courtenay Place after a carpark was found to be damaged in Monday's earthquake.

Cordons on Courtenay Place after a carpark was found to be damaged in Monday's earthquake. Photo: Megan Whelan / RNZ Photo: RNZ / Megan Whelan

Mr Lavery urged private landlords who had their buildings checked by engineers to pass on the results, as the council was yet to get a clear idea of just how many buildings had been assessed.

He said council staff had worked hard since immediately after the first earthquake. They had help from engineers from elsewhere in New Zealand, but they could do only so much.

He said they had to rotate staff, and ensuring sensible hours in case there was another emergency.

He said some people may need to wait a few more weeks before returning to their apartments or businesses.

Open for business, but streets quiet

Jonny Durham, who owns the restaurant Mama Brown's, was delighted to reopen this morning.

"We still don't have any updates on timeframes for that building to be demolished. Obviously it is still a concern.

"One side of the street is going to be closed while they demolish that building."

He said it was quiet as people stayed away from the area.

Artist hopes mural will be saved

Artist Jim Allen welcomed news the council would try to save his artwork.

"Good news, very good news that is," he said.

The work was commissioned by Imperial Chemical Industries, which built the 10-storey Molesworth St building in the 1960s.

Mr Allen, who is in his 90s, said the artwork held special significance.

"It was my first commission that I ever received, back in 1966, so a long, long time ago now," he said.

"Over the years [since] I've done a lot of works for buildings, and lost most of them actually, and I didn't like the idea of losing this one."

"Where I can maintain the work I do, I like to do so.

"If it's possible to save this one, I'd really like that to happen."

The Wellington City Council said first, part of the building would be removed so it was safer, then it would try to save the art.

Workers repair earthquake-damaged building on Pipitea St, Wellington.

Workers repair earthquake-damaged building on Pipitea St, Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Aaron Smale

Union supporting quake-affected workers

The biggest public sector union PSA has set up a forum on its website for workers to post questions.

They cover issues such as building inspections and working in isolation.

The union's national secretary, Glenn Barclay, said the earthquake had been a stressful and unsettling time, especially for those who could not get into work.

"They can feel quite isolated from each other as colleagues, particularly if they have had to evacuate buildings. Across the whole of our membership in Wellington to know what is going on in other agencies, that can be really helpful for them."

Glenn Barclay hoped the forum would help workers feel better informed in a time of great uncertainty.

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