Building 'leaning' before quake

Employees of a bakery in Christchurch's popular Cashel Mall shopping area were concerned that the building next to them, which later collapsed killing one of their co-workers and three other people, was unsafe and on a lean after the 2010 earthquakes.

Cake decorator Beverly Broomhall, an employee of Trocadero Bakery, gave evidence today at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the collapse of buildings in Cashel Mall on February 22 which killed her colleague Shane Tomlin and three others.

Ms Broomhall said she and her colleagues were disconcerted about "big, long cracks'' caused by the magnitude-7.1 September shake in the wall of the building adjacent to the bakery - tenanted by 123 Mart.

"Somehow the 123 Mart was open for business after September, even though it was leaning on to our building. We often talked about how the hell it got a green sticker with all those cracks,'' she said.

"After the Boxing Day aftershocks we became very wary of the 123 building. I remember I was talking to [colleague] Jan about the cracks and how we thought it was dangerous.''

But the owner of the bakery building, Antony Gough, told the hearing he he never noticed anything other than "superficial'' cracks in the 123 Mart building, which is owned by his brother Tracy Gough, and did not think it had been on a lean.

In the February earthquake, the walls of the 123 Mart building, at 91 Cashel St, fell away killing the four.

The 123 Mart building had been given a yellow placard following the September quake after two of its chimneys collapsed. The Trocadero Bakery and Deval buildings were not damaged in the September quake.

Once the chimneys were removed the 123 Mart building was changed to a green placard. However, further inspections in October noted vertical cracks in the east and west walls of the building, significant cracks in the parapet to the rear of the building requiring and cracks in the street frontage at the joint between the walls and horizontal members. An engineer's report was requested to understand better the significance of the damage.

The building was red-stickered as a result and the city council served a Building Act notice on the owners of the 123 Mart building requiring safety works to be completed by January 31.

The same Building Act notice red-stickered the buildings on either side - Deval and the bakery - because of the risk to those buildings from the parapets at the 123 Mart.

Safety works on the 123 Mart building were completed by Opus contractors by the end of December and all of the stores began operating again.

Two months later, in the February earthquake, the third-storey walls of the 123 Mart building collapsed. The west wall fell onto the Deval building and the east wall fell onto the Trocadero Bakery building.

Mr Tomlin, 42, was working at the Trocadero Bakery when the magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit. His dirt-streaked face became famous around the country after footage was shown of him being pulled alive from the rubble. He was taken to the hospital, but subsequently died of his injuries.

Air traffic controller Jillian Murphy, 48, was shopping with friends at her favourite store, Deval, when the quake struck and the store collapsed.

Ms Murphy was a mother to Taylor, 17, and Bond, 15, and she and her partner Richard Green were about to go shopping for an engagement ring.

Melissa Neale was walking in Cashel St with her mother, Margaret Neale, intending to go to the Trocadero Bakery for lunch. They were a short distance from the building when the earthquake hit. Ms Neale's body was located under collapsed building material in the vicinity of 89, 91 and 93 Cashel St. Melissa, a twin, was identified through personal belongings recovered from her body.

Christopher Homan and his wife Christine, were standing in the vicinity of 93 Cashel St when the frontage of the buildings fell away, pinning Mr Homan's legs under rubble. CPR was performed on him but he died at the scene.

The hearing is expected to conclude later today, with engineers and the owner of the 123 Mart building giving evidence this afternoon.

- Anna Turner of The Star

Add a Comment