Design behind New Zealand earthquake building collapse that killed 115

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

A six-story 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 said today.

The Canterbury Television (CTV) building crumbled to the ground during the 6.1-magnitude earthquake that rocked Christchurch on Feb. 22, 2011. The building's collapse was responsible for nearly two-thirds of the 185 deaths from the quake. 

Monday's report was the final release from the New Zealand government-ordered commission that spent months investigating the buildings damaged in the quake. Findings the commission released in February 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. 

"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," Key said in a statement. 

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 the engineers from Alan Reay Consultants Ltd. for developing an inadequate and noncompliant design and city officials for not noticing the problems. 

The report said the structural design was completed by engineer David Harding, who had no experience designing multistory buildings like the CTV and was "working beyond his competence." Yet Harding never sought assistance from his boss, Alan Reay. The report blamed Reay for leaving Harding to work unsupervised, despite knowing that Harding lacked experience. 

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

Harding's lawyer, Michael Kirkland, said neither he nor his client had read through the report so they couldn't comment. Reay also declined to comment. 

Mary-Anne Jackson, who fled the building seconds before it collapsed with a deafening boom, said she and other CTV workers had long felt unsafe in the building. She said it shook when trucks drove by and there were cracks in the walls. Jackson hopes Reay and others involved in the building's design and construction will face criminal charges. 

"I want justice and accountability," Jackson told The Associated Press. "It's just devastating and it just never goes away. It's always there and I'll take it to the grave with me." 

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

An investigation by the AP last year found that inspection checks routinely used across the world to verify the safety of buildings following earthquakes fail to account for how well those buildings will withstand future quakes. The AP found that building occupants and public officials in Christchurch did not understand that a "green sticker" doesn't mean the building has undergone a thorough analysis of its structural health, nor that it will stay intact during future quakes. 

The commission's report found that the CTV building was given a green sticker after being 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 authorized to inspect buildings after earthquakes, and that government agencies should research how to account for aftershocks. 

Maan Alkaisi, whose wife Maysoon Abbas died in the building's collapse, praised the commission for its thorough investigation. 

"Now we know that there were many design deficiencies in the CTV building and we know who was responsible for these design deficiencies and why," Alkaisi told the AP. "I don't want to see this happening again, so we have to make sure that the recommendation made by the royal commission is adopted, that much better building standard is adopted and much better engineering practice is also adopted." 

Brian Kennedy, whose wife Faye died when the building fell, said the report had brought him a measure of closure and that he was not interested in punishing the engineers or construction team involved. 

"I think (I'm) trying to look forward a little more positively now," Kennedy told the AP. "Time heals a wee bit — not everything, but it makes it a little easier."

AP

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