Quake inquiry touches on cordon lifting

A cordon around an earthquake-damaged building was lifted just days before it collapsed in the February 22 quake, killing an Israeli backpacker who was eating lunch inside a parked van.

But before Ofer Benyamin Mizrahi, 22, was crushed to death by falling masonry he managed to save the lives of three friends who escaped the van just before the Christchurch city centre building came crashing down.

Engineers and city council officials were quizzed today at a Royal Commission of Inquiry hearing into the Canterbury earthquakes as to why the cordon in front of Winnie Bagoes restaurant at 194 Gloucester St was lifted, despite it still being rated as "earthquake prone'' and a "high risk'' building.

Mr Mizrahi was on holiday in Christchurch when the magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck at 12.51pm on February 22, last year. He and his three pals were eating lunch inside a white Mitsubishi van parked outside the old Winnie Bagoes restaurant when the violent shaking started.

Mr Mizrahi managed to get his friends out of the van, but was unable to get out himself when the three-storey unreinforced masonry heritage building collapsed.

After the magnitude 7.1 earthquake of September 4, 2010, the building was "badly damaged'', with a parapet of the rear wall collapsing.

Tenants vacated "immediately'' and engineering consultancy firm Beca yellow-stickered the building after finding "significant cracking and movement.''

When the magnitude 4.9 Boxing Day jolt struck, it suffered more damage and was red-stickered.

On December 27, a "barrier fence'' was erected at the front of the building.

Make-safe work was approved by Christchurch City Council on January 6 last year, and building work was carried out under Beca's supervision.

On February 11, building owner Devonia Realty Ltd was advised by Beca that work was completed.

David Wallace of Devonia told the hearing: "As a result of received advice from Beca, the city council removed the barricades'' on either February 15 or 16.

Steve McCarthy, Environmental Policy and Approvals Manager of Christchurch City Council, referred to correspondence from Beca which was "critical'' to their consideration in lifting the cordon.

A Beca letter to the council said: "Any potential dangerous features have been secured ... and does not pose a threat to the public.'' Mr McCarthy admitted that there was "a lot of pressure'' from neighbouring businesses affected by the cordon, to lift it "with urgency.''

"There seemed no reason to leave it up,'' he said.

But Beca today denied actually recommending the cordon's removal.

Samir Govind, a technical director at Beca, told the commission: "We only provided advice on the completion of the Section 124 notice and that the building was still earthquake prone and it was high risk.''

Asked by counsel assisting the commission, Marcus Elliott why he didn't "take a step back'' and raise with the city council the "wider risks'' associated with the building, Mr Govind replied: "I thought I did.''

He added: "The council managed cordons - I didn't manage them.''

 

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