(AFP) – Sep 3, 2010
WELLINGTON — A powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked New Zealand's second largest city Christchurch just before dawn Saturday, causing widespread damage and panic among residents, but no serious injuries.
Locals ran out onto the streets in fear after the quake, to find roads blocked by the facades of buildings which crashed down and crushed parked vehicles.
Electricity was cut off in much of the city, while roads were littered with glass from broken windows.
The Civil Defence ministry said the national crisis management centre had been activated.
"We've had a wide range of reports of some serious damage," a civil defence spokesman said, adding it was fortunate the quake struck at a time when streets were largely deserted.
The quake, initially recorded at 7.4 magnitude, struck at 04:35 am (1635 GMT Friday) and was centered at a depth of 16.1 kilometres (10.0 miles) some 30 kilometres (19 miles) west of Christchurch, the US Geological Survey said.
"Oh my God. There is a row of shops completely demolished right in front of me," local resident Colleen Simpson told the Stuff website.
Many people suffered minor injuries from objects falling in their homes. Hospitals said there were no reports of any serious injuries, but doctors were on standby because of the intensity of the quake and the extent of the damage.
Police closed the central city as looters targeted damaged shops, police Inspector Mike Coleman said.
"There's considerable damage there, and we've already had reports of looting. Shop windows are broken and obviously it's easy pickings for displays and things."
Coleman said that with the extensive damage, people were being urged to stay at home.
"We've got considerable road damage, there's gas leaks, there's been damaged water pipes, we've got sewage in houses and quite a lot of power lines and power poles down. It's very unsafe to be out and about."
Roads in the seaside suburbs were packed with cars as residents moved inland, but there were no tsunami alerts issued.
A swarm of aftershocks were ongoing and police said damage was widespread throughout Christchurch, with electricity supplies cut to about half of the city of about 340,000 and sewer lines damaged.
Kevin O'Hanlon, from Mairehau in Christchurch, said: "Just unbelievable. I was awake to go to work and then just heard this massive noise and, boom, it was like the house got hit. It just started shaking. I've never felt anything like it."
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker told Radio New Zealand from the regional Civil Defence headquarters that there was considerable damage.
"Mainly of very old brick and masonry buildings. A number of those have got walls that have collapsed and fallen into the streets," Parker said.
"In the coastal areas ... a lot of people were in their motor cars trying to drive out of that area."
John Ristau, a seismologist at the government's GeoNet geological monitoring service said the intensity was strong enough to cause structural damage to buildings.
"It would most probably be the weaker buildings that have major damage to them," he said.
An aftershock of magnitude 5.7 was felt at 1653 GMT (0453 local time), the USGS said, while local media said a series of shocks continued to roll across the city.
The quake was felt throughout the South Island and the lower North Island.
Christchurch International Airport, the main international gateway to the South Island, has been closed and rail movement in the South Island has been stopped while facilities are checked.
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