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Please explain from Stats workers

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 31/03/2017

There's anger that workers weren't told of problems with a modern Wellington waterfront office building and relief they weren't there when it partially collapsed in a quake.

The government moved on Friday to signal changes to two building standards and potentially the Building Act after an independent report said people could have died in Statistics House when the Kaikoura quake struck last year.

The magnitude 7.8 quake on November 14 happened in the middle of the night and the partial collapse of Statistics House, built in 2005, surprised many.

Labour MP Grant Robertson and the Public Service Association want to know why workers weren't told an assessment in 2013 identified critical issues with the building and why only one floor was fixed three years later.

PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk says a lack of communication between landlord Centreport and its tenants is deeply concerning.

New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering president Peter Smith says because the earthquake was so far away, only low-frequency waves made it to Wellington.

Mid-height buildings experienced severe shaking that met or exceeded what they were designed to withstand but short and stiff buildings only experienced shaking one-third of building code.

Structural Engineering Society spokesman Paul Campbell said the Statistics House investigation had revealed buildings with flexible frames and precast floors were vulnerable in a large and long earthquake.

Flexible frames are designed to bend so that the ends of the beams experience controlled damage.

"But the Kaikoura earthquake has confirmed that if an earthquake is strong enough and long enough, the damage can make the beams grow in length. This means the supports for the pre-cast floor system can move too far apart, potentially causing parts of the floor to lose their support and collapse."

CentrePort chief executive Derek Nind said the investigators found that Statistics House complied with the building code existing when it was built in 2005.

"They also acknowledge the effectiveness of the strengthening work we were working with our tenants to complete when the earthquake struck."

Mr Nind says the company would make a decision on the future of Statistics House once its engineers and insurers completed their deliberations.

He says the company is also working with engineers, insurers and tenants on the future of the BNZ Building, Customs House and Shed 39.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson hopes the insights in the investigation will prevent future failures of this kind.

"I remain forever grateful that the quake struck after midnight when no one was in Statistics House."

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