ABC Feature EQNZ on Foreign Correspondant

Posted 27 Jul 2011 by wdavie Popular
Posted in CERA/Govt , Media

This is the link to an interested article that aired in Australia last night 26/7/11

It was a day when otherwise trivial, normally inconsequential decisions would mean the difference between life and death. Canterbury Television (CTV) studio cameraman Tom Hawker had brought sandwiches to work but his girlfriend insisted they go out and get some air and a bite to eat.
Tom left the building.

Station all-rounder Matty Beaumont microwaved his lunch and ate in his office.

Every story CTV journalist Emily Cooper was chasing that day had fallen over so she put her hand up for an assignment a colleague was too busy to handle and headed out.

A routine appointment had brought police officer Pamela Brien to a medical clinic on the 4th floor.

At 12.51 on February 22 this year, the earth beneath Christchurch shifted and shook violently. CTV receptionist Maryanne Jackson raced for the front door resisting an urge to double back for her handbag. It was a decision that saved her life. She would be the only CTV employee still in the building when the quake hit to survive the destruction.

116 people from all walks of life perished in the terrifying frenzy of collapsing floors and walls that followed. Just outside, Tom Hawker watched it all come tumbling down and estimates it took just 12 seconds for the building to crash. Shocked by what he saw, he wasn’t feeling lucky - he felt powerless.

“I certainly did hear some sounds. People yelling out help. But then what could you do? I mean. There’s so much debris on top of them unfortunately. What could you do?”

But months on and as a Royal Commission probes the devastation, the widespread heartbreak and loss that settled on Christchurch is turning to outrage. Why did one building, erected just a few decades ago, collapse so readily and claim so many lives?

“Nobody needed to die in the CTV building. It’s a horrible thing to say, but it should not have collapsed the way it did” BARRY DAVIDSON Structural Engineer

In this compelling investigation, New Zealand correspondent Dominique Schwartz uncovers opinion from respected authorities that the building was an earthquake disaster waiting to happen.

“In a large earthquake we would expect that there’ll be a lot of damage but that people should be able to exit out of the building, down the stairs. So for it to collapse the way it did, either there was a design failure or a construction failure or both.” BARRY DAVIDSON Structural Engineer

“I want someone’s arse busted over this and held accountable. I think jail would be very nice. See what it’s like to be lonely. Let them suffer.” GEOFF BRIEN husband of victim Pam.


SCHWARTZ: This is not the way Mayor Bob Parker ever expected to enter his city (passing security at checkpoint) but a series of powerful earthquakes since September has made this the new normal in Christchurch. I’ve been to war zones in Africa, Afghanistan, the Middle East – Christchurch’s Red Zone is every bit as disturbing.

MAYOR BOB PARKER: “If you look at the centre of my city, you would say well you know this could be one of those cities in the world where there’s an insurrection. It looks like it’s been under sustained rocket and artillery fire for some time and our people have been hammered. It’s not something anybody would ever believe they would have had to look at or contemplate looking at to be honest and certainly not me”.

SCHWARTZ: Quakes have ripped the heart out of New Zealand’s second biggest city.

MAYOR BOB PARKER. “This is High Street. You can see some tram lines just a little further up here coming to an abrupt end. This area was being developed as a really beautiful boutique – shops, fashion, art, coffee houses”.

SCHWARTZ: Up to half of the CBD will be demolished. The city’s deadliest quake site, the CTV building, has already disappeared, but not the ghosts of the 116 people who died here.

MAYOR BOB PARKER: “I think one of the most horrific moments in the first quake on the 22nd of February at least, was coming and seeing this and from the time I got here, there was the collapsed building, the lift shaft, was still standing and crawling over the smoking ruins of the rubble were just piles of rescuers. The USAR teams were here. They were pulling people out, not always alive and it was a terrible... it was just a nightmare for anybody in this city. I think this is where the nightmare probably reaches its most intense”.

MARYANNE JACKSON: “It was like the end of the world for me. It was absolutely shocking. I’ll never forget it”.

SCHWARTZ: Maryanne Jackson is the receptionist for Canterbury Television. The regional broadcast station occupied the first two levels of the six storey CTV building. Of the 17 television staff inside when the quake hit, only Maryanne made it out alive.

MARYANNE JACKSON: “I was on the ground floor and the studio was on the ground floor as well but at the time of the earthquake, everyone was upstairs on the first floor except myself”.

SCHWARTZ: Matthew Beaumont was the station’s program scheduler and web manager, but he’d played most roles at CTV. He was an all rounder and a showman. In the hour before the quake, he’d warmed his lunch in the first floor kitchen. He was last seen in his office, ten minutes before his world imploded.

DAVID BEAUMONT: “Well he was a special guy and all fathers would say that, but he was very sincere, humorous, loved a joke, gentle, a touch of naïve with him which makes him something special in my eyes because if you’re naïve, you’re open to the wonders of the world and he was opened to the wonders of the world. And he was just… he was just a special guy”.

SCHWARTZ: Also in the CTV building that day was Pamela Brien, a police officer in the child protection unit. She was visiting the clinic on the 4th floor.

GEOFF BRIEN: “She had a marvellous technique with babies and that’s been said by a lot of people from the time they came around. They couldn’t get their own children to sleep, she’d get them and cuddle them and what have you. And she’ll never experience that with her own grandchildren”.

SCHWARTZ: But on the morning of February the 22nd, no one could have imagined the horror that lay ahead.

MARYANNE JACKSON: (wiping away tears) “Well it was a day that I’d been for lunch. I got back about twenty five past twelve and just a normal day. We had filming in the studio. We had Let’s Go Shopping and we had Good Living and Donna Manning was fronting both of them and she was doing a great job”.

SCHWARTZ: Tom Hawker had been operating the studio camera for Donna Manning. He planned to eat in, but his colleague and girlfriend convinced him otherwise.

TOM HAWKER: “Yeah I had my lunch made that day and Penelope thought well why don’t we just both go out and you can come with me for a walk and get my lunch. So I thought, oh well, why not?”

SCHWARTZ: Journalist Emily Cooper looked like being stuck inside for the day. Stories kept falling over. She asked Chief Report Sam Gibb for any ideas.

EMILY COOPER: “This one day I said to Sam, have you got any ideas of something I could do to fill in while I’m waiting for people to get back to me? Oh well there was a story I was actually going to get Rhys to do it but if you’re free, he’s not, you go do it if you want. So I rang the lady and I guess the guilt is that it so easily could have been Rhys”.

SCHWARTZ: Rhys Brookbanks was Emily Cooper’s university friend. He’d been at CTV just a week. At 12.51 on February the 22nd, 2011, CTV stopped covering the news. It became the news.

TV3 NEWSREADER: “The latest quake to hit Christchurch just before 1 pm measured 6.3 on the Richter scale”.

MAN: (just after quake) “Unbelievable, just unbelievable”.

NEWS REPORT: “Rescuers pulled people from the burning CTV building as helicopters worked to put out a fire”.

WOMAN: “And I could feel it collapsing underneath. So we are on the fifth floor and it was collapsing”.

MAYOR BOB PARKER: “I think we need to prepare ourselves in this city for a death toll that will be significant”.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN KEY: “I don’t think we can go past the fact that we may well be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day”.

EMILY COOPER: “When the quake happened I knew it was going to be um… I knew it was bad. For some reason I just had this urge to get back and I pretty much just ran back in bare feet. I never ever thought..... could have prepared myself for literally just a pile of rubble”.

MARYANNE JACKSON: “The noise was horrific. It was like the building was breaking up, I knew that, and I knew the others didn’t have a chance to get out. The noise was like a jet plane. The staircase was right at the side and it was going in and out. All the glass, all the frontage of the building was coming in at me and I thought I’ve got to get out of here and I just ran for it. And I was sort of going sideways as I was going out the door and I was terrified the door wouldn’t open but it did”.

TOM HAWKER: “And then I looked at the CTV building and that started shaking and unfortunately came down right in front of us within a matter of twelve seconds I’d say”.

MARYANNE JACKSON: “I still thought I was going to die as I was running out of the building. I thought the building’s going to get me on the way but I’ll run as fast as I can and luckily the shoes I had on that day weren’t too high. So I was lucky and I just ran for it but if I had’ve stopped and got my bag or my jacket I probably wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be”.

TOM HAWKER: “I certainly did hear some sounds, people yelling out help. But then what could you do? I mean there’s so much debris on top of them unfortunately… what could you do?”

SCHWARTZ: Donna Manning’s children waited by the rumble for a miracle. It never came.

BARRY DAVIDSON: “Nobody needed to die in the CTV building. It’s a horrible thing to say, but it should not have collapsed the way it did”.

SCHWARTZ: Rugby Park in suburban Christchurch is jumping. The February quake knocked out the city’s main stadium so the Canterbury Crusaders are training here – among them a slew of All Black luminaries, including Dan Carter.

Structural engineer Barry Davidson has been called in to ensure the broadcast tower is strong and safe – two words he doesn’t associate with the CTV building.

BARRY DAVIDSON: “In a large earthquake we would expect that there’d be a lot of damage but people should be able to exit out of the building, down the stairs. So for it to collapse the way it did, either there was a design failure or a construction failure or both”.

SCHWARTZ: “It’s not possible that it could have just been an Act of God?”

BARRY DAVIDSON: “No... no. Well because most of the buildings that were designed well - modern buildings - are still up which proves the point that if you design to sort of the New Zealand philosophy, is that you can have very big earthquakes and they still stand up cause they don’t collapse”.

SCHWARTZ: As a former lecturer and past president of New Zealand’s Structural Engineering Society, Barry Davidson has given plenty of talks on seismic building failures.

BARRY DAVIDSON: “That’s a catastrophic failure. If you were nearby you’d be dead”.

SCHWARTZ: He used to use examples from Turkey and Mexico – now he’s got them on his doorstep.

BARRY DAVIDSON: “If something good turns up out of the Christchurch earthquakes it might be that the people of Christchurch are going to be asking some big hard questions and may be forcing the government of the day, and I’m not picking on this particular government or any other one, to tighten up the rules”.

JUDGE MARK COOPER: “It is a daunting task”.

SCHWARTZ: Justice Mark Cooper is already asking some hard questions about what happened and what needs to change. The High Court Judge is chairing the Royal Commission, which is investigating building failures caused by the earthquakes.

JUDGE MARK COOPER: “If for example we decided that a particular building failed because it had been inadequately designed or inadequately built, we would say so”.

SCHWARTZ: The CTV building is a key focus for the Royal Commissioners. It was designed, engineered and constructed by local firms. The architectural and structural engineering companies are still operating. The builder is not. Council gave the 2 million dollar project the go-ahead in September 1986.

Twenty five years later it was a pile of smouldering rubble. The Government’s Building Department is conducting an inquiry as well as the Royal Commission. Neither will determine liability.

JUDGE MARK COOPER: “The function of the Royal Commission is more investigative and its aim is to get to the bottom of what happened, not to get to the bottom of who may be liable”.

MARYANNE JACKSON: “Well someone needs to be accountable because all those gorgeous people lost their lives and I just think someone needs to be you know.... well it’s murder really. It’s manslaughter”.

GEOFF BRIEN: “I want someone’s arse busted over this and held accountable. I think gaol would be very nice. See how lonely they feel at night when they come home (upset). See what it’s like to be lonely. Let the pricks suffer. Let them swing”.

SCHWARTZ: Beneath a volcanic ash sky, the families of 50 earthquake victims are joining forces to seek answers and justice. Lawyer Grant Cameron is leading the charge. He has first hand experience of collapsing buildings. February’s quake left him and his staff trapped on the 6th floor of the Forsyth Bar office block – another building being investigated by the Royal Commission.

GRANT CAMERON: “It was a bit of a drama knocking out the window then abseiling staff down the side of the building - but the stairwells were completely gone. Seventeen stories with just both stairs gone”.

SCHWARTZ: Most people here lost loved ones in the CTV building. They wonder if it was structurally compromised by the first big quake in September.

GRANT CAMERON: “As I understand it, people had serious concerns about the general safety. Were they relayed to that particular owner and were any steps taken to get any engineering or other advice?”

SCHWARTZ: The owners of the building say the proper checks were carried out. David Beaumont would like to see the paperwork.

DAVID BEAUMONT: “Is there a central database as to the engineers who carried out those inspections and is there a database as to the quality of those inspections?”

GEOFF BRIEN: “I smell a rat here because I think there’s something that’s being covered up here”.

SCHWARTZ: He’s haunted by thoughts of the fire that ripped through the CTV ruins and his wife Pamela’s last moments.

GEOFF BRIEN: “No one wants to hear that their wife’s been char-grilled. How blunt’s that? And to never see your wife again. Like for example if you had a heart attack now you’re put in a coffin. You close the lid. You see the person. You kiss them goodbye, all that sort of stuff, but there’s none of that resolve there because there was nothing to kiss goodbye. Someone’s got to be accountable. A hundred and sixteen good people in that building going about their daily business. Too right. They’ve got to be accountable”.

SCHWARTZ: David Beaumont is looking for reasons rather than retribution to reconcile the loss of his son Matthew, the bright eyed boy he and wife Janette first met in the Greymouth orphanage.

DAVID BEAUMONT: “And I thought you know does it happen in the first few weeks, does it happen in the first few months or when, when would that kind of bond come? And (gets upset) I walked in there, looked over and that was my son (clicks fingers) just like that because even at two weeks old, he’d chosen us as much as we’d chosen him”.

SCHWARTZ: Matthew was a Dr Who fanatic. His fiancé was a fellow traveller.

KELLY THORNDICROFT: “Although our relationship was brief, it was wonderful, perfect and amazing”.

SCHWARTZ: But instead of a marriage in November, Kelly Thorndicroft got a memorial in June.

KELLY THORNDICROFT: “Reason tells me that you and I are unlikely to meet again but I think I shall not listen to reason. I have seen the world inside your head and know that all things are possible. God speed my angel”.

DAVID BEAUMONT: “You could go on forever just trying to find blame or something but it’s not going to bring anybody back. All you want to do is try and make the situation in the future as safe as you can”.

SCHWARTZ: Mayor Bob Parker says striving for a safe city is not just an option, it’s an imperative.

MAYOR BOB PARKER: “One hundred and eighty one people in essence perished on my watch, and like everybody I want those answers. We need to know what happened here. I’m not looking for a witch hunt”.

SCHWARTZ: He says the Royal Commission will be crucial in laying the foundations for a new Christchurch.

MAYOR BOB PARKER: “It’s not about blame. It is about getting answers and we cannot go forward as a city if we can’t get the answers and if we can’t build the safest city in the world from a seismic perspective. We have to have that goal”.

SCHWARTZ: But Auckland based engineer John Scarry fears a rebuilt Christchurch will be no safer.

JOHN SCARRY: “Almost certainly seismically deficient buildings will be designed and rebuilt. This is my open letter of 2002 - a 150 page report”.

SCHWARTZ: Nine years ago he warned about the parlous state of structural engineering and construction in New Zealand. His report led to a review of the Building Act - but he says, little effective change.

JOHN SCARRY: “I could write a new open letter today just starting from 2003. Things haven’t improved, they’ve got worse”.

SCHWARTZ: He says the industry is headed for total collapse with no proper skills training and councils stripped of their technical staff.

“Do you think the Christchurch earthquake is a wakeup call for the nation?”

JOHN SCARRY: “Yes but no one seems to be paying any attention. I wrote to the Prime Minister John Key in October 2009 asking him to intervene and he didn’t even bother to reply”.

SCHWARTZ: Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee concedes it often takes tragedy to spark action.

GERRY BROWNLEE: “You know one of the things that always worried us is that it takes tragedies to get Royal Commissions to give us advice that we probably should have been seeking anyway. I guess in his case, even the scientists have been somewhat baffled by the extent of the whole seismic event that continues here”.

SCHWARTZ: Over the past ten months Christchurch has been rocked by more than seven thousand earthquakes. They’ve shaken this city to its core. The founders of Christchurch didn’t plan to build a city with a church in it. They planned to build a church with a city around it. This church, Christchurch Cathedral. It’s the very heart of this place - an icon for believers and non believers alike so as it takes a battering with each new quake, so too does the faith of the city’s residents in the ability of Christchurch to recover. The cathedral’s parishioners are now worshipping at Christ’s College Chapel.

ARCHDEACON LYNDA PATTERSON: (to congregation) “If we have another earthquake while the service is going on this morning, we suggest you drop, get into the smallest place possible, cover your heard and wait until the shaking has stopped”.

SCHWARTZ: Let by the city’s Archdeacon, they pray for quieter times and a good night’s sleep.

ARCHDEACON LYNDA PATTERSON: (to congregation) “There was a cartoon circulating after the September earthquake. I wonder if you saw it? Two people are having a conversation and one says, ‘How are you sleeping after the quake?’ The other replies, ‘Oh like a baby. I wake five times a night and wet myself’.”

SCHWARTZ: The 19th century cathedral may have taken a fatal hit but the Archdeacon says the congregation has not.

ARCHDEACON LYNDA PATTERSON: “It’s always about more than buildings and the spirit of Christchurch is such that we will rebuild and we’ll carry on”.

SCHWARTZ: When it comes to recovery, Canterbury Television is showing the way. CTV was back on air within eight weeks of the quake, despite having lost half of its staff as well as its part owner and managing director.
It was a race against time to get the first news bulletin couriered to Auckland on a USB stick for play out back to Christchurch. It was no small triumph.

EMILY COOPER: “You can’t go through something as massive as this, and the majority of people never go through something in their whole lives like this, so it can’t not change you as a person. I want to be a better person and I want to have the best career and life I possibly can for the people, for the amazing people that lost their lives”.

SCHWARTZ: CTV does not have a guaranteed future. Neither does the city – but both are standing their ground, which in shaky Christchurch is more than a start.


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