How tragic could it have been had people been at work? Ceiling at Stats NZ building collapsed during quake

Statistics NZ's chief has told her staff she is baffled by how her agency's modern Wellington office block suffered so much damage in yesterday's quake.

It doesn't bear thinking what would have happened had the 7.5 quake struck during working hours. Source: Seven Sharp

Chief executive Liz MacPherson said it appeared Statistics House, located on CentrePort land on the Wellington waterfront, suffered structural damage to "one corner of the building, down the stadium end, partially affecting two floors".

She said in a Facebook message to staff that engineers had told her it could be anywhere from several months up to a year before staff could return to the building.

"Now it goes without saying that I am asking the same questions that I am sure you are asking, 'how is it a building that is as new as Stats House, with the code rating that it had, could suffer this sort of damage'," she said. "I will continue asking those questions."

Building owner CentrePort said Statistics House will require more extensive inspections to accurately assess the damage.

Wellingtonians are being told to keep away from the CBD, with The TSB Arena and the BNZ Centre on Wellington's waterfront having sustained the most damage. Source: Facebook: Matthew Clode

Chief executive Derek Nind said two concrete beams had become separated from the building's exterior wall with part of the ground and first floor ceilings dislodging.

He said CentrePort had, in consultation with an engineer, just completed upgrades of the building's upper floors when the quake hit and these performed well.

Mr Nind said Shed 39, home to the Greater Wellington Regional Council, "also performed well thanks to a seismic upgrade in 2013, but suffered damage to the ground floor".

"Engineers will conduct further assessments in due course," he said.

Following the damage, a Greater Wellington Regional Council spokesman said he was uncertain when staff could return.

He said the offices had sustained superficial damage from shaking during the quake but faced a larger problem from subsidence underneath the building.

He said cracks had become visible in the property's car park concrete, while some office walls were no longer plumb with the ceilings.

CentrePort's Mr Nind also said the port suffered damage to some wharves and roadways with liquefaction and differential settlement in places.

He said staff were working to get the port operating again as early as practicable.

BNZ, which is also a tenant of CentrePort, said it did not expect staff to return to its Harbour Quays office this week .

"Understandably there has been damage to the building, things like cracks and fallen plasterboard and broken glass, which isn't unusual with a quake this size," a spokeswoman said.

"We're not expecting that our people will be back in the building this week."

The same property was also damaged in a 2013 quake.