New Zealand Spared Widespread Destruction After Quake Kills Two

  • Quake centered near Christchurch on nation’s South Island
  • ‘Most significant shock I can ever remember’: Prime Minister

New Zealand Quake Kills 2, Cuts Main Highway

New Zealand was rocked by a powerful earthquake early Monday that killed two people and caused extensive damage to roads and businesses, but avoided the widespread destruction caused by a 2011 quake that killed 185 people. The local dollar fell.

Prime Minister John Key, who flew over affected areas by helicopter, estimated the cost of the damage could run into a “couple of billion” dollars and warned of the psychological impact of the quake, which was followed by dozens of aftershocks. “It just drains the emotional energy away from people,” Key told Radio New Zealand.

The magnitude 7.5 quake struck at 12:02 a.m. local time north of the South Island city of Christchurch that bore the brunt of the 2011 quake. It violently shook the capital city of Wellington at the southern end of the North Island and triggered a tsunami warning.

Products lie on the ground in a Wellington chemist on Nov. 14.

Photographer: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Military personnel were flown by helicopter to the coastal town of Kaikoura to help with the clean-up, after landslides blocked local highways and one person was killed when a historic homestead collapsed. Engineers inspected buildings in the largely-deserted capital city for signs of damage and public transport was suspended until tracks, bridges and tunnels could be checked.

The kiwi dollar fell more than half a U.S. cent in early trading to 70.69 U.S. cents, a one-month low. It pared losses before dropping again and bought 70.89 cents at 6:45 p.m. in Wellington. The country’s benchmark stock gauge, the S&P/NZX 50 Index, climbed 0.6 percent, while Tower Ltd., an insurer, slumped 7 percent.

New Zealand sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of volcanic and seismic activity that rings the Pacific Ocean. Christchurch, the third-largest city of about 366,000 residents, is still recovering from the 2011 quake that was the nation’s deadliest in eight decades and destroyed the central business district.

The seismic monitoring agency GeoNet said it appeared the nation had been hit by “two separate but related quakes” -- with the shaking lasting around two minutes.

“One thing we can say with certainty: there will be more earthquakes to come,” the agency said on its website.

Large cracks on Highway 7 near Hanmer Springs on Nov. 14.

Photographer: Matias Delacroix/Getty Images

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management issued a tsunami warning for all southern coastal areas, prompting evacuations in some regions. The warning was scaled back after six hours, and later lifted.

Authorities in Wellington urged residents who work in the city to stay home. A number of major buildings in the city showed “signs of structural stress,” regional civil defense controller Bruce Pepperell told the New Zealand Herald newspaper.

Key told reporters that for Wellington, at least, it was the “most significant shock I can ever remember and people will be feeling quite vulnerable.” 

— With assistance by Adam Haigh

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