New Zealand’s South Island Rocked by 7.0 Earthquake

A magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck New Zealand’s South Island, knocking out power, damaging roads and ripping facades off buildings in Christchurch, the country’s second-largest city.

The quake, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) west-northwest of the city and at a depth of 12 kilometers, ruptured sewer lines and water pipes and led to the closing of the airport, Radio New Zealand reported. At least two people suffered serious injuries, the public broadcaster said, citing Christchurch Hospital.

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.

“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 today. “We have been extremely lucky as a nation there have been no fatalities,” Civil Defense Minister John Carter said.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key will fly to the city later today, the government said in a statement. Christchurch International Airport is closed until at least 1 p.m. local time, according to its website.

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.

The cost of the quake will be “significant,” Carter said on the network.

Without Power

About 75 percent of Christchurch was without power, Roger Sutton of electric utility Orion New Zealand Ltd. told Radio New Zealand. Facades of some buildings came down, scattering bricks and crushing cars, according to images posted on Fairfax New Zealand Ltd.’s news website.

“Oh, my God, there is a row of shops completely demolished right in front of me,” Christchurch resident Colleen Simpson told The Press, according to the local newspaper’s website.

The National Crisis Management Centre was activated to monitor the situation, said John Hamilton, director of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, in an e-mailed statement. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the event didn’t pose a tsunami threat.

Strongest Quake

New Zealand’s most powerful recorded earthquake occurred in January 1855 with an estimated magnitude of 8.2, according to GeoNet, an earthquake-monitoring site. It shifted vertically about 5,000 square kilometers of land.

Several aftershocks followed today’s quake at 4:35 a.m. local time, 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.

Streets in the downtown part of Christchurch were blocked off by police because of damaged buildings and debris, Radio New Zealand said. People were advised to conserve water, turn off power if a home is damaged, not go to the hospital unless it’s an emergency and refrain from using cellphones.

North Island

Damage was reported on the southern part of North Island, home to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, and Auckland, its largest city.

Christchurch police official Mike Coleman told Radio New Zealand the quake caused “considerable road damage,” brought down live power lines and caused gas leaks. He advised residents to stay off the roads and check on their neighbors.

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.

GeoNet says it locates around 15,000 earthquakes in and around New Zealand each year. Most of these are small, though about 250 are strong enough to be felt.

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