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N.Z. to review building design standards after quake


    An emergency worker patrols a road cordon in Wellington, New Zealand, after officials determined a nine-story office building, center, is in danger of collapsing following a powerful earthquake.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand >> New Zealand’s government said Friday the partial collapse of a modern office building’s interior during an earthquake last November was unacceptable and could have killed people.

Minister for Building and Construction Nick Smith said officials will review the nation’s design standards and building laws following the release of a report into the performance of Wellington’s Statistics House building.

The six-story office block was built in 2005 and housed government statisticians. Two concrete floors partially collapsed during the magnitude 7.8 quake, which occurred just after midnight when the building was empty.

The quake’s epicenter was about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Wellington in the small town of Kaikoura. The quake killed two people and was so powerful it lifted up sections of the seabed.

Independent experts concluded that the office building’s flexible frame and the stretching of its beams during the quake contributed to its poor performance.

The report found the long 2 ½-minute duration of the quake and amplified shaking at the building’s location were also factors.

The panel found that while some of the building’s design features didn’t conform to the building standards at the time, these weren’t relevant to the partial failure.

Smith said in a release the quake had exposed a design flaw in certain types of buildings that needed to be fixed nationwide. He said he also wanted to make sure new buildings didn’t have the same problem.

“This quake was large and unusually long but a modern building like Statistics House should not have had life-threatening structural damage,” Smith said.

The building has been empty since the quake and its future remains uncertain.

“I remain forever grateful that the quake struck after midnight when no-one was in Statistics House,” said Government Statistician Liz MacPherson in a statement.

She said she hoped the report would speed up a decision about the building’s future.

Smith said quake-prone New Zealand is at the cutting edge of seismic design standards but the nation has not yet solved the problem of finding all the potential ways a building can fail.

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