SeismiCity: Graphic Quake Warning Ignored

March 12, 2011

‘Christchurch’s “fatal flaw” was the land that it sat on – “a soft, shaky sponge of riverstones and silt half a kilometre deep.,”In any decent quake, the Garden City will shake like a leaf,” ‘ 1996 documentary  Earthquake!*

Grant Dixon, the director of the 15-year-old documentary Earthquake!, warning of the effects of a major earthquake on Christchurch’s eastern suburbs and heritage buildings, says lives could have been saved if officials had heeded the film’s warnings*.

A recently edited eight-minute clip of the 1996 documentary* has received more than 78,000 YouTube views since 5 March.

The Jurassic jelly the city sits on magnifies the graphically portrayed resonance frequency amplification effect which causes destruction. “In any decent quake, the Garden City will shake like a leaf…”   

Former Christchurch City Council engineer, the late Bryan Bluck, was  presciently outspoken when interviewed for the doco. In his role as council building control manager he said that “hundreds of old buildings” in the city had not been strengthened and were likely to collapse in an earthquake. “Well, really, your heritage list, to be quite cruel, defines most of your earthquake-prone buildings…”

As it turned out, the seismic net was cast a lot wider. There are or will be a lot more prone buildings than those on the heritage list.

The documentary said that liquefaction would cause sewers and drains to burst apart, roads to break up and buildings to sink or tip over.

Former Christchurch City Council sewers unit manager Alan Watson warned of what he could have called a Sewers Crisis:  Christchurch had a high risk of liquefaction, especially in the eastern suburbs.

For many of us “liquefaction” is a post September 4 2010 term. Many people-especially the shovelling Student Army- now have had a hands-on experience of the resultant silt twice in six months.

Earthquake! rated well on TV but went down like a lead demolition ball at City Hall, despite the courageous stance of Brian Bluck and others. As its director says, it was greeted with “a deafening silence” from officials.

The echo chamber of history will have much more to divulge.

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*Blinks   Vid  Earthquake!  Christchurch 1996 Why buildings collapse 

#Lyall Lukey 12 Mar  2011  My other less serious blog

In the Earthquake Zone: Shaking All Over?

September 18, 2010

Counsellor: “So tell me Dave, How are you handling the earthquake?”
Dave:  “Well, I’ve been sleeping like a baby…every two hours I wake up and crap myself.”     Dilbert

The cat came back the other day, rather nonchalantly, 8 days after the Canterbury 7.1 earthquake at 4.35am on 4 September.

 I thought this had to be a good sign: aren’t cats catastrophic early warning devices?  With four pads firmly planted on the floor don’t they pick up pre-seismic waves before the audible waves are detected by the human ear?

 He only stayed one night.

In the fortnight since the Jumbo jet landed right on top of our house at exactly the same time as the goods train ploughed down our corridor there have been more than 700 aftershocks* since the first big shake, many over magnitude 4 and some over 5. Terror Infirma in a newly uncertain city.

My office  in Mancan House (an abbreviation for Canterbury Manufacturers, not a chauvinist affirmation) is on the corner of Manchester Street and Cambridge Terrace, by the Avon. It’s a part of town where vertical occupations by day give way to  briefly horizontal transactions by night. According to a letter to the Editor of The Press this morning the whole street was directly in the centre of the divine seismic scope: “Manchester St was the focal point for destruction within the city centre-Manchester St is the street for prostitution…This is a warning from God to the people of Christchurch to repent and change their ways….”

Our building was spared the wrath of God, with hardly a thing out of place. It’s obviously a goody goody oasis strategically situated between Sodom and Gomorrah. Or perhaps, more prosaically, a post-1975 building code building with many of its rather more historic neighbours, including three churches,  looking sadly awry.  No doubt the landlord will put the rent up.

It took a week for the landlord’s agents to inform us we were allowed back. However, the building had been greenstickered from day 2 and we’d  been back into gear since then although initially inside the cordoned area. When it came to getting back to work in non-emergency occupations there was quite a different public/private sector imperative. The supply lines are shorter for SMEs.

The shocking thing for many-but not for geologists well aware of the potential earthquake liquefaction issues of building a city on swamp, silt and shingle- was that all this subterranean activity is happening close to or underneath largely flat Christchurch, not in Wellington, the hilly predestined city of faulty towers, where people were at least conditioned to expect the Big Urban One, no doubt in cosmic seismic recompense for being the seat of government and hosting ungodly politicians.

Earlier in earthquake week the Canterbury province had been hit by the financial earthquake at South Canterbury Finance. The company is now in the hands of receivers. The Hubbard cupboard has been shaken bare like some of our cupboards at home. We await the inevitable financial aftershocks.

The full cost of the Canterbury earthquake could be as high as $4 billion, on top of the $1.6 Billion to cover SCF  it will knock a big hole in the Treasury jam jar. One positive is that with the lateral tectonic movement we’ve closed the gap with Australia by a good 3 metres.

These things come in threes. The road and railway south of Kaikoura have just been reopened having been blocked by a big post-earthquake slip for almost a week, cutting off urgent supplies for the Canterbury region.

The state of emergency in Christchurch was lifted by the city council on Wednesday. Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker, whose re-election prospects have got up to 7.1 on the electoral Richter scale, has declared that the city has now moved from a state of emergency to a state of urgency.

I better go and get the washing in- and put some cat food out.


#Lyall Lukey  18 Sept  2010  My other blog