Potent quake hits New Zealand, causing widespread damage but few injuries
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake damaged buildings, cut power, and knocked fleeing residents off their feet on New Zealand’s South Island early today, but there were no deaths and only two injuries reported.
Panicked residents in their pajamas ran into the streets of the southern city of Christchurch after the pre-dawn quake, residents said. There were reports of some people trapped in damaged buildings — though none were thought to be crushed — and a few looters broke into some of the damaged shops in the city of 400,000, authorities said. Army troops were on standby.
Chimneys and walls had fallen from older buildings, roads had been blocked, traffic lights out, and power, gas, and water supplies disrupted, Mayor Bob Parker of Christchurch said. He warned that continuing aftershocks could cause masonry to fall from damaged buildings.
“The fronts of at least five buildings in the central city have collapsed, and rubble is strewn across many roads,’’ resident Angela Morgan told the Associated Press. “There is quite significant damage, really, with reports that some people were trapped in damaged houses.’’
Suburban dweller Mark O’Connell said his house was full of smashed glass and food tossed from shelves, with sets of drawers and computers tipped over.
“We were thrown from wall to wall as we tried to escape down the stairs to get to safety,’’ he told the AP.
The quake, 19 miles west of Christchurch, according to the state geological agency GNS Science, shook a wide area, with residents saying buildings collapsed and power was severed. No tsunami alert was issued.
GNS Science initially reported the quake as magnitude 7.4, but later downgraded it after reexamining quake data. The US Geological Survey, in America, measured the quake at 7.0.
The quake hit at 4:35 a.m., shaking thousands of residents awake.
More than a dozen aftershocks rocked the region in the next few hours.
Civil defense agency spokesman David Millar said at least six bridges were damaged.
New Zealand sits above an area of the earth’s crust where two tectonic plates collide. The country records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year — but only about 150 are felt by residents. Few do any damage.
New Zealand’s last major earthquake was a magnitude 7.8 in South Island’s Fiordland region on July 16, 2009 — a temblor that moved the southern tip of the country 12 inches closer to Australia.