13 Dec 2018

Death highlights risk of old buildings in quakes - Coroner

2:18 pm on 13 December 2018

The death of a man when his historic homestead collapsed in the Kaikōura earthquake highlights the dangers of old buildings in a quake, a coroner has ruled.

Elms Homestead

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Albert Louis Edgar, 74, was struck by falling debris and crushed to death in his Elms Homestead on 14 November 2016 after the magnitude 7.8 quake.

A coroner's report, issued today, says his death "highlights the dangers associated with the collapse of old buildings in an earthquake. The failure of such buildings resulted in the deaths of 39 people in the earthquake in Christchurch on 22 February 2011".

"People who use and occupy buildings constructed of unreinforced masonry face the risk of injury or death in a large earthquake."

The report recommended that owners of unreinforced masonry buildings get an assessment of the earthquake risk.

Mr Edgar lived in the Homestead, a two-storey bay villa built in the 1870s, with his wife and mother on State Highway One, Kaikōura.

The report said the Kaikōura earthquake, centred off the coast of the South Island and lasting two minutes, was the "most powerful in the North Canterbury area in over 150 years and is one of the most complex earthquakes ever recorded with modern instruments".

Mr Edgar's wife, Pam, told police: "I felt a bit of rolling. We were both in bed when the rolling happened. We were both in the same bed in our bedroom which was two rooms away from the lounge. Because of the rolling I jumped out of bed. I wanted to check on my mother-in-law…

"As I got out of my bedroom I wanted to go left but I got thrown right, and thrown up against the wall so I didn't get to check on her. I yelled out to Louis several times, but he didn't hear me. By that time everything was falling around me…Once things started to settle I looked up and I could see a palm tree so I knew the top storey of the house had fallen…I could see the remains of the top storey on the bedroom area."

She eventually managed to get out of the house and called emergency services.

Firefighter Peter Ford found Mr Edgar's body covered in rubble.

The coroner's report found that "the location of Mr Edgar's body suggests that he was struck by falling debris while trying to escape through the bedroom door".