A walk through Wellington after the 2016 quake

I took a few photos of central Wellington after the magnitude 7.8 quake that struck near Culverden on Monday. The energy of the quake was directed north, which is why Wellington was far harder hit than Christchurch, although Culverden is mid-way between the two cities.

The plus-side, as far as I could see, was that eighty years of active thinking into quake-proofing has paid off. A shake of this magnitude would have done a lot more general damage years ago, particularly in the form of debris shaken off buildings, and would have likely cost many more lives. But even so, damage was surprising in many ways – including in some modern buildings constructed to the latest standards, which failed under loads that I understand were less than a third of their design capacity. Ouch.

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Parliament buildings and grounds after the quake (with flags honouring the multi-national naval visit to our waters). Ain’t nothing gonna fall on me if I stand here. The main building to the far right was completed in 1914 but brought close to modern standards in the late 1990s with the addition of lead-rubber base isolators. The executive wing, centre right, makes the Parliamentary complex look like a dragon recently performed a rather dismaying bowel movement on site. However, its mounded circular shape and ferroconcrete structure make it pretty good in quakes. It’s nicknamed ‘The Beehive’ and houses New Zealand’s national emergency response centre in its basement.
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Molesworth street, diagonally opposite Parliament, was blocked off – the building in the centre, beyond the cathedral, had suffered structural failure and the top four floors were in danger of collapse. I couldn’t get closer. Nor did I want to.
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Weird damage here!
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These two buildings on Featherston Street have different resonant frequencies and banged together. Same thing happened during the 2013 quakes.
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Detail of damage with abseilers knocking out broken glass panels from the awning. I have no idea why glass awnings are specified in a quake-prone city. Years ago, I used to drink in the pub on the ground floor.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016

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4 thoughts on “A walk through Wellington after the 2016 quake

    1. Yes – very well indeed. Ductility counts for much! There are issues with masonry add ons such as chimneys but the usual kiwi combo of wood frame, wood cladding and a steel roof on wood bearers holds up well. Tests run a couple of years ago to see just how much punishment one can take suggested that structural failure would not occur even in quakes of Mw 9+. Whether the building remains habitable in such circumstance is another issue, but it means that even in the largest possible quake, wooden housing stock is unlikely to collapse and kill people.

      1. Of course there is the issue of houses bouncing off their foundations, and older ones with plaster ceilings, but I think I’d rather take my chances in such a house than in a highrise.

        1. Yes, that’s a major issue and usually the cause of them then splitting a wall or roof and being rendered uninhabitable – I saw a lot of them in Christchurch, and all that could be done was to demolish them. But they didn’t collapse, which is a comforting thought in a zone where quakes might strike any time without warning.

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