Kaikōura Earthquake Emergency

We have helped a community to recover and rebuild after a devastating earthquake destroyed roads, rail links and buildings while shaking people’s spirits.

Kaikōura is situated on the eastern coast of the South Island in New Zealand (NZ). In November 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the town. Ruptures occurred on multiple fault lines and Kaikōura’s road and rail links were severely impacted on, and in some areas completely destroyed. Emergency services and communities were cut off, with the only access to Kaikōura by air and sea for a number of weeks. In an urgent, highly-pressurised situation, our highly skilled team was deployed within hours to assist in the extensive emergency response.

Landslide across coastal road and rail due to Kaikōura earthquake

Delivering Emergency Response

On the morning of the earthquake, the New Zealand Transport Agency established a multi-agency Emergency Control Centre in our office in Christchurch. From this centre, we worked closely with agencies including the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) and KiwiRail, Civil Defence, affected councils, the NZ Army and multiple contractors.

Our Highway Network, Geotechnical and Bridge teams undertook reconnaissance from land and air to help re-establish access for isolated communities. Our structural engineers also carried out building triage assessments, and inspected key lifeline services, such as phone exchanges, to enable communication lines to be restored quickly. Buildings from six public schools were assessed within two days, so that the school and community could return to normal activities as soon as possible. Our team collaborated on the ground with Civil Defence to coordinate information, and to avoid replicating inspections.

At the same time, our teams were also deployed to assess the damage to major buildings in the Wellington CBD, as the quake had significantly impacted NZ’s capital city.

Based on our previous experience on the Canterbury Earthquakes (2010-2012), we had in-depth knowledge in earthquake emergency response. We had developed processes for these types of events, but equally importantly, we had highly-trained and experienced people who knew how to respond and make decisions in a highly challenging situation.

Drone Footage Copyright Cirtex

Providing Ongoing Support

 In the weeks that followed, our role shifted from an emergency response to a recovery phase role, including:

  • Route management comprising rapid assessments and carrying out critical repairs
  • Prioritisation of resources
  • Professional advice to the NZTA and other agencies

After the initial response efforts, the NZ Government established the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) Alliance between four contractors with NZTA and KiwiRail as the Owner Participants. From early 2017, NCTIR led the recovery and rebuild phases with the assistance of numerous members of our global team.

Supplying Comprehensive Services

As part of the rebuild and recovery phases, our technical work included:

  • Undertaking remedial works to establish a controlled access opening of the Inland Road (Route 70) to Kaikōura. This included slope stabilisation, monitoring and the installation of Bailey Bridges.
  • Developing emergency slip clearance designs and directing the contractors to clear the large number of slips affecting State Highway 1, south of Kaikōura.
  • Providing advice to the wider network including the State Highway 1 alternate route via Lewis Pass.
  • Delivering key and timely inputs including survey, initial geometric and geotechnical design.
  • Critical and early archeological inputs and assessments.
  • Facilitating numerous workshops to help with a smooth transition from the different agencies to NCTIR.

Getting the Community Reconnected

Our teams worked tirelessly to provide inputs and assistance to the immediate emergency response. Our knowledgeable advice and guidance enabled NZTA to make informed network decisions and deliver essential reports to government ministers including the Minister of Transport and Prime Minister. 

Kaikōura’s rail and highway links were re-opened before the end of 2017.

“It was fantastic to see the people of Kaikōura responding to having the road open and being reconnected to the rest of New Zealand, seeing tourists again and just lifting the spirit of the community.” Frances Neeson, WSP Engineering Geologist.

A Worldwide Recognition 

The Kaikōura Earthquake Recovery Project was voted by the general public as their favourite civil engineering project globally by the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE). Being a WSP Opus project, this worldwide recognition underpins the impactful work done by our people over the past two years to reconnect the local community.

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