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Law Firm Staff Rappel to Safety from 6th Floor After NZ Quake, But Face Uncertain Future

Posted Feb 28, 2011 2:06 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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When an earthquake decimated the central business district of Christchurch, N.Z., last week, staff at Grant Cameron and Associates survived but were stuck in their sixth-floor offices in the Forsyth Barr building after all of the stairwells collapsed. Nearby, the pancaked shards of the Pyne Gould building served as a graphic warning that their situation could potentially get even worse.

As authorities struggled to deal with the devastation, name partner Grant Cameron, who is a former police officer—assisted by a solicitor from another office on the same floor who is an experienced mountaineer—helped everyone escape out of a window and rappel six stories down the side of the building to safety, the Manawatu Standard reported.

Cameron also lowered the firm's computer servers down to waiting staff before being helped out of the building himself by firefighters, according to the article. However, because the exit to the parking garage was blocked, the servers are still sitting in the back of a car in the building, which is slated for demolition, frustratingly inaccessible.

Almost a third of the buildings in the central business district have been determined to be unsafe, reports the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.).

At last report, 154 people are known to be dead, but that number is expected to rise, reports CNN.

"With the servers that are situated in that car, we would be 100 percent self-sufficient, we wouldn't be making the insurance claims that otherwise we would be making, we wouldn't have staff that would be requiring any sort of subsidy," Cameron told the Standard. However, because the small firm is now losing clients in the quake's aftermath, Grant Cameron and Associates may still be forced to lay off a third or more of its 14 employees.

"Whether it's one month or two months of subsidies from the government, I'm still going to have to make those staff redundant because I no longer have that business that I had before," he says.

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "2 US Lawyers OK After Quake; 35 Escape N.Z. Firm Where Stairs ‘Dropped Down the Stairwells’"

ABAJournal.com: "N.Y. Law Firm Co-Founder and 4 Fla. Law Students Among Those Who Survived N.Z. Quake"

Ashburton Guardian: "Couple tell of their trauma"

New Zealand Herald: "Christchurch earthquake: Big aftershocks every month for a year"

Updated at 7:58 p.m. to clarify that Cameron and another lawyer who worked on the same floor helped his staff escape the building.

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