THE Dean of Wellington, New Zealand, the Very Revd Digby Wilkinson, was optimistic that St Paul’s Cathedral, in the city, would reopen yesterday, after engineers told him that a safety cordon around an earthquake-damaged neighbouring building was likely to be reduced. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck on Monday, and there have been several aftershocks. Two people are known to have died.
Scientists from GeoNet, which monitors geological hazards in New Zealand, said that the earthquake resulted from multiple simultaneous seismic events on a number of different fault-lines. Most of the damage centred on the coastal town of Kaikoura, in the South Island, which was left without services and vehicular access. New Zealand Air Force helicopters ferried the population to HMNZS Canterbury. Ships from Australia, Canada, and the United States are assisting in the relief efforts.
The North Island was also affected, and a large part of Wellington was sealed off after fears that a nine-storey office block was in danger of collapse. The structural integrity of the unoccupied building was questioned after damage to a large metal girder, part of the supporting structure. Several significant buildings were within the exclusion-zone, including the country’s defence and espionage headquarters, besides St Paul’s Cathedral.
It had been feared that the office building could collapse on top of the cathedral. St Paul’s itself did not suffer from any structural damage; but the earthquake dislodged its organ, throwing pipework into the choir area in the nave. Cathedral authorities had begun making plans to adjust their pattern of worship when the order was made to evacuate the area.
“The main chassis of the organ is still up in the chamber itself, and some of it has been quite badly fractured,” Dean Wilkinson said on Wednesday. “If we had another earthquake, we couldn’t guarantee that more of it wouldn’t fall out; so we have decided to cordon off the chancel area and move everything down into the nave for the time being, until such time as we can disassemble the organ itself.
“We have to relearn to do our worship in the space very differently. We’ve mostly used the high altar [with] the chancel area for the choir, and occasionally a nave altar; but now we have had to bring the choir down into the nave. It will be a semi-permanent nave altar until we get the organ sorted out.”
New Zealand has tightened its building codes after a series of earthquakes in recent years; and several churches were closed because they did not meet the new standards. Questions are now being asked about why so many modern buildings were affected.
“The irony in this recent earthquake is that all of our churches have come through unscathed,” Dean Wilkinson said, “whereas the latest buildings with very high code-recognition are having troubles.
“We are left wondering whether the building quality these days is quite up to what it used to be. It is one thing having a code, and it is another thing to build to high standards. I have got my doubts that that is actually occurring as much as we think.”
“Cardboard cathedral” options explored. A decision is expected to be made before Christmas on the rebuilding of Christchurch Cathedral, which was all but destroyed in the 2011 earthquake (News, 4 March 2011). Members of the cathedral community are currently meeting in a transitional “cardboard cathedral” (News, 20 July 2012). Campaigners want the original cathedral to be fully restored; but the diocesan and cathedral Church Property Trustees want to pursue cheaper options. Earlier this year, the government appointed an independent consultant to examine the different possibilities.
“In the midst of many people telling us how to proceed, we have not wanted disproportionate resources focused on the cathedral, especially when we have wider responsibilities in Christian leadership,” a cathedral spokesperson said. “We must remember the many people who still reside and work in badly damaged buildings, those whose lives were irrevocably changed by injuries caused by the quakes, and those who lost loved ones.
“But we are also aware that indecision about the future of Christchurch Cathedral is having a significant effect on the rebirth of Christchurch from the centre outward.”