New Zealand’s second-largest city, Christchurch, was placed under night curfew as a storm threatens to exacerbate an estimated NZ$2 billion ($1.44 billion) of damage caused when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit the area.
A state of emergency was declared after the quake struck at 4:35 a.m. local time yesterday, cutting power, damaging roads, rupturing sewer lines and water pipes and ripping facades off buildings. Christchurch, suffering aftershocks, is now bracing for possible flooding as gale force winds and heavy rains are expected to reach the city today, the government said.
“It’s a miracle no one lost their life,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said as he inspected the damage yesterday. One person received serious injuries when the temblors struck.
The quake comes as New Zealand, whose snowcapped peaks and verdant valleys formed the backdrop to the Academy Award-winning “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, struggles to rebound from its worst recession in 30 years. The country, the biggest global exporter of dairy products and lamb, is affected by about 15,000 earthquakes each year, according to GeoNet, an earthquake- monitoring site.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s like a warzone,” Christchurch resident Tracey Chambers said in a phone interview yesterday. “We’ve got so many big, brick historic buildings here and a lot have caved in, including the restaurants and bars. If the earthquake had happened a few hours earlier, hundreds would have been killed.”
The quake struck about 55 kilometers (34 miles) west- northwest of the city and at a depth of 12 kilometers.
Christchurch City Council declared a state of local emergency and said it is assessing damage to buildings in case evacuations are needed. The hospital is operating on generator power, the council said in a statement. Christchurch International Airport was closed yesterday until 1:30 p.m. local time.
“There would not be a house in the city that has escaped damage in some way,” Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said at a televised news conference yesterday. “We have been extremely lucky as a nation there have been no fatalities,” Civil Defense Minister John Carter said.
The quake was probably the worst to hit New Zealand for 80 years because it was a “bull’s-eye on a major city,” Warwick Smith, from the Institute of Geological Nuclear Sciences, told TVNZ today. Christchurch is home to about 348,000 people, according to Statistics New Zealand.
Damage at Lyttelton Port Co., which handles coal exports about 12 kilometers southeast of Christchurch, will cost “millions” of dollars to repair, Chief Executive Peter Davie said in a phone interview. The damage, mainly to paving and flat surfaces, will take months to fix, he said.
Telecom Corp. of New Zealand, the nation’s biggest phone company, said its infrastructure appears to have escaped major damage.
“Things have actually stood up pretty well from Telecom’s point of view,” company spokesman Ian Bonnar said in a phone interview from Auckland yesterday. “The landline services are pretty much intact.”
Power was restored to about 77 percent of Christchurch by 12 p.m. yesterday, the government said. About 10 percent of the city was expected to be without power overnight, it said.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the event didn’t pose a tsunami threat.
New Zealand’s most powerful recorded earthquake occurred in January 1855 with an estimated magnitude of 8.2, according to GeoNet. It shifted vertically about 5,000 square kilometers of land.
Several aftershocks followed yesterday’s quake, including one of magnitude 5.7 at 4:53 a.m., the U.S. Geological Survey said on its website. The strength of the first quake was revised to 7.2 and later to 7.0 from an initial report of 7.4 by the USGS.
Shaking was felt as far west as Greymouth, about 166 kilometers away, and in Dunedin, about 309 kilometers away, according to Radio New Zealand.
Damage was reported on the southern part of North Island, home to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, and Auckland, its largest city.
The last quake to cause casualties in the nation hit in December 2007, when buildings in downtown Gisborne collapsed. Eleven people were injured and one died of a heart attack, GeoNet said.
New Zealand is starting to benefit from a rebounding global economy and is poised to grow 3 percent this year, compared with a 1.6 percent contraction in 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund.