Family lived illegally in quake-damaged high-rise

8:53 pm on 21 November 2016

The Wellington City Council had no idea people were living in a high-rise building damaged so badly in last week's earthquake it now has to be demolished, it says.

61 Molesworth St is one of three buildings in the capital with confirmed structural damage following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake early on Monday 14 November.

View RNZ's full coverage of the earthquakes here.

The other two are Statistics House and the car park building near Reading Cinema on Courtenay Place. A report on a fourth building, Defence House, was due on Friday, but the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has not made the report public.

The building on Molesworth St has been cordoned off, and teams are hoping to start demolition work tomorrow. No decisions have yet been made on whether Statistics House or the parking building will be demolished.

It has emerged that people were living in the disused office block at 61 Molesworth at the time of the earthquake and have complained they had to run for safety, leaving all their possessions behind.

They said they were not allowed back to retrieve personal items.

Wellington City Council building control manager Mike Scott said his organisation was working with the tenants who had been made homeless after the building was badly hit.

"I have facts on three of the tenants who were in there on a residential basis," he said.

"It (residencies) were not an authorised use of the building and we will be working with the building owner around that issue in due course.

"But we have to deal with the immediate issue: getting the building down, making it safe and making sure the tenants that were in there are being looked after."

One of those who had been living in the building, Olive Mape, told Checkpoint with John Campbell she didn't know it wasn't legal for her family to be there.

The property manager hadn't given any support and their only correspondence was that they had other people to help, she said.

Mrs Mape said they couldn't get insurance and have lost irreplaceable family possessions.

The owner of the building, Prime Property Group, declined to comment.

61 Molesworth St

The building at 61 Molesworth St Photo: RNZ / Aaron Smale

Demolition delayed

Difficulties in making sure all utilities are turned off are delaying the start of the demolition work.

Mr Scott said it was not a straightforward matter of flicking a switch.

"We anticipate that the contractors will be able to get under way within the next couple of days," he said.

"They will start mobilising their machinery onto the site probably tomorrow and we anticipate that within the next 10 to 14 days the big part of the building will be down on the ground completely safe, and then they will look to truck all the waste away."

Mr Scott said the actual demolition work would be done by a 110-tonne machine that was being brought up from Christchurch. It would use huge sets of jaws to slice into the building.

Part of the cordoned-off street should be open by the end of the week.

RNZ has been kept a running list of all the buildings affected since the quake last Monday morning, and has marked them in the map below.

The red markers include the three buildings confirmed with structural damage, as well as Defence House, which remains in question.

British High Commission shut

Meanwhile, the British High Commission in Wellington has closed due to recently discovered damage from last Monday's earthquake.

The building was inspected by engineers this morning, and has now been closed until further notice.

British High Commissioner Jonathan Sinclair said British nationals who needed consular help should phone a duty officer on 04 924 2888.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs