Strong quake strikes central New Zealand, tsunami warning issued
A powerful earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale has rocked central parts of New Zealand with authorities issuing a tsunami warning and advising people to seek higher ground.
The US Geological Survey said Sunday that the quake struck just after midnight (1102 GMT Sunday) and was mostly felt 91 km (57 miles) north-northeast of Christchurch, the biggest city on New Zealand’s South Island.
Tsunami warning sirens were activated in coastal towns of South Island and along the east coast of the North Island, while police and emergency workers went door-to-door to evacuate seaside properties, according to AFP.
The Ministry of Civil Defense, which is in charge of emergency management in New Zealand, said in a bulletin that a “destructive tsunami” with waves up to five meters (16 feet) was possible.
Some early reports noted that waves up to two-meters were seen, but civil defense warned they could intensify in strength.
Power was knocked out in some places while phone lines, including emergency lines to police, fire and ambulance services, were said to be down. People in the capital Wellington spent the entire night on the streets. The quake was also felt in Auckland, Nelson and Hamilton.
“The whole house rolled like a serpent and some things smashed, the power went out,” said a woman from her home in Takaka, near the top of the South Island.
“When it started it was really big so I thought it was going to be short but it kept going for a good few minutes and felt like the second floor was going to fall down,” said another resident, identified as a young students living in the area.
New Zealand’s Geonet measured the tremor at magnitude 6.6 while Civil Defense authorities issued a tsunami warning, urging residents on the South Island’s east coast to move to higher places
“Situation has changed – tsunami is possible. People near the coast in the south island should move to high ground or inland,” Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management said in a tweet.
However, there was no comment about potential damage as officials said it was too early to determine if there were any casualties.
A less powerful earthquake of 6.3 magnitude hit the same area in February 2011, killing 185 people and causing massive damage to property.