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Dangerous chimneys remain an issue on Wairarapa earthquake anniversary

Up to 20,000 chimneys came crashing down in homes around the Wellington and Wairarapa region, 77 years ago today, but decades later unsecured bricks remain a major danger in homes.

Quite incredibly, nobody was killed by the thousands upon thousands of falling bricks in what we now know as the first of the Wairarapa Earthquakes on June 24, 1942. The only casualty in the magnitude 7.2 quake was caused by gas escaping from a broken pipe.

Many locals though were injured by falling debris and several years later much damage to homes remained unrepaired. This unrepaired damage made such an impact on the New Zealand political leaders that the Government decided to create the Earthquake and War Damage Commission (later to become the Earthquake Commission), in 1944.

Collapsed chimney, bricks spill into room

Today, many New Zealand homes still have unreinforced brick or concrete chimneys that could cause damage and injury in a future quake.

EQC chief executive Sid Miller says the anniversary of the first of the earthquakes that created his organisation was an appropriate reminder that Kiwis cannot afford to be complacent about this real and current risk.

“Making your chimney safer might not be as time-consuming or expensive as you think,” says Mr Miller.

“There are visual signs to be aware of that could be an indication a chimney is less structurally sound. The Be Prepared information on the EQC website is there to help New Zealanders know what to look for and take action to remove or replace potentially dangerous chimneys,” says Mr Miller.

For more information to help make your home safer, visit eqc.govt.nz/chimneys

The Wairarapa region was shaken by a minor earthquake at 8.14pm on June 24, 1942, which was followed by the magnitude 7.2 earthquake at 11.16pm, which lasted about a minute.

The main event was felt from Auckland to Dunedin and aftershocks continued through the night.

The epicentre of the earthquake was near Masterton, with the violent shaking destroying most of the brick facades and parapets in the main shopping area.  Churches and other larger brick buildings suffered massive damage in Wairarapa towns like Martinborough, Eketahuna, Gladstone, Carterton and Greytown. 

Most residential timber buildings survived well, but nearly all brick chimneys collapsed causing injuries and major damage.

Wellington also suffered significant damage with bricks, concrete and masonry crashing down onto the footpaths of the main streets. Fortunately the earthquake hit late on Saturday night when most locals were tucked up in bed. A few hours earlier the streets would have been busy with diners and movie goers.

Mr Miller says that the Christchurch earthquakes and more recently the Kaikōura event were recent, stark reminders that New Zealanders should not ignore the risk falling bricks pose to people and property. “So wherever you are in New Zealand, if you have an unreinforced brick or concrete masonry chimney, contact your local council or a building professional to see what’s involved in getting it checked or removed.”

EQC Media: 027 4063476
media@eqc.govt.nz

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