CHRISTCHURCH The main dome of the severely damaged Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch is to be removed over several months to reduce the risk of part or all of the remaining structure collapsing. The cathedrals bell towers and part of its front façade collapsed during the 6.3 magnitude earthquake on February 22.
According to a statement from Christchurch diocese, an engineers report based on an exterior inspection revealed that the dome of the cathedral is forcing the weight-bearing structures of the building outwards.
This represents a severe hazard to the surrounding area.
Another earthquake like that of February 22 would see the dome topple.
It is expected the removal of the dome will be done by cranes operating at a distance from the building.
A meeting was held on March 2 between Bishop of Christchurch Barry Jones, diocesan officials and expert advisers, at which the damage to the cathedral was considered.
The diocesan statement reported that no decision will be made about the future of the cathedral until a detailed engineering report is generated.
This will occur when access to the building is safely restored, after the dome has been removed. The present state of the building is so dangerous, no one may enter it for any reason.
Bishop Jones told NZ Catholic that many Catholics in Christchurch are very upset and are grieving [at the damage to the cathedral] because it is very precious to lots and lots of people.
Bishop Jones said many people are hoping that something of the historic cathedral can be saved.
Designed to be of the form of a Roman basilica by architect F.W. Petre, the neo-classic cathedral was opened by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Thomas Carr, in 1905.
It was widely regarded as one of Christchurch’s most beautiful buildings and had had work done to strengthen it against earthquakes.
But it had not been used for Mass since being damaged in a September 4 earthquake.
The number of people confirmed as having been killed in the earthquake was 159 on March 2. That number is expected to rise to the mid-200s.
The eastern suburbs of the city and the central business district have been most badly affected. Most suburbs have electric power, but many are still without water and wastewater connections.
NZ Catholic understands Catholic churches at Lyttelton and Sumner have been severely damaged, and some others have sustained some damage.
Nonetheless, Masses went ahead at several churches in the city on February 28, which had been cleared as safe by engineers.
But in some other parishes where this was not the case, Masses were said outdoors or in other locations.