Catalogue of failings led to building’s collapse in quake

Buildings were left badly damaged after a  6.3 earthquake hit the city of Christchurch in 2011. Picture: Getty
Buildings were left badly damaged after a 6.3 earthquake hit the city of Christchurch in 2011. Picture: Getty
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A SIX-STOREY office building that collapsed and killed 115 people in New Zealand’s devastating earthquake last year was poorly designed by an inexperienced engineer, inadequately constructed and should never have been issued a building permit, a government report has said.

The Canterbury Television (CTV) building collapsed during the 6.1-magnitude earthquake that hit Christchurch on 22 February, 2011. Nearly two-thirds of the 185 deaths from the quake were people killed here.

Yesterday’s report was the final release from the New Zealand government-ordered commission which investigated the buildings damaged in the quake.

The commission released findings in February which concluded that the CTV building was made of weak columns and concrete and did not meet standards when it was built in 1986. The building’s designer contested those findings.

New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key, said building failures were responsible for 175 of the 185 deaths from the quake.

He said: “We owed it to them, their loved ones left behind, and those people badly injured in the earthquake, to find answers as to why some buildings failed so severely.”

The report found several deficiencies in the CTV building’s engineering design and said the city council should never have issued the building a permit because the design did not comply with the standards at the time. The commission also concluded that there were problems with the building’s construction.

The commission blamed engineers from Alan Reay Consultants Ltd for developing an inadequate and non-compliant design, and city officers for not noticing the problems.

The report said the structural design was completed by engineer David Harding, who had no experience designing multi-storey buildings such as the CTV premises and was “working beyond his competence”. Yet Mr Harding never sought assistance from his boss, Alan Reay. The report criticised Mr Reay for leaving Mr Harding to work unsupervised, despite knowing he lacked experience.

The report also found that Mr Reay pressured city officials to approve the building despite them having reservations.

Mary-Anne Jackson, who fled the building seconds before it collapsed, said she and other CTV workers had long felt unsafe in the building. She said it shook when heavy vehicles drove by and there were cracks in the walls.

Ms Jackson said she hopes Mr Reay and others involved in the building’s design and construction will face criminal charges.

“I want justice and accountability,” Ms Jackson said. “It’s just devastating.”

The commission noted that the building had been issued a “green sticker” following a magnitude-7.0 earthquake in September 2010, signalling authorities had given it the thumbs-up for people to continue using it.

However, it was inspected by just three building officials, none of whom was an engineer. The commission recommended that in the future, only trained building safety evaluators be authorised to make inspections after earthquakes, and government agencies should research how to account for aftershocks.

Maan Alkaisi, whose wife, Maysoon Abbas, died in the building, praised the commission’s thorough investigation.

He said: “I don’t want to see this happening again, so we have to make sure … that much better building standard is adopted and much better engineering practice is also adopted.”