Tuesday, February 22, 2011


A 7.0-magnitude earthquake has struck off New Zealand's South Island, the US Geological Survey has said. The epicentre was 55km (35 miles) north-west of Christchurch, at a depth of 12 km (7.5 miles), it added. Police said there had been widespread damage to buildings and roads as well as power cuts. Two men were seriously injured by falling masonry and glass. A state of emergency was later declared in Christchurch, New Zealand's second largest city with a 386,000 population. New Zealand lies at the southern end of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, and above an area of the Earth's crust where the Pacific Plate converges with the Indo-Australian Plate. Radio New Zealand reported that the quake was felt as a long, rolling motion lasting up to 40 seconds, and that the area was continuing to feel aftershocks. The USGS said one aftershock had a magnitude of 5.7.

Eyewitness Philip Duncan, a journalist, was on the seventh floor of a hotel in Christchurch when the quake struck. It hit with a bang. Being a New Zealander, it's not unusual to feel an earthquake, but it gradually built up and got bigger and bigger and scarier and scarier. For a short while I really thought the building I was in was about to come down.

The local newspaper, The Press, said it was felt widely across the South Island, including Christchurch and the nearby port city of Timaru. Police said damage and power outages had been reported as far afield as Dunedin, 360km (223miles) to the south-west. Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said the "sharp, vicious earthquake" had caused significant damage in parts of the city. Chimneys and walls had fallen from older buildings, with roads blocked, traffic lights out and power, gas and water supplies disrupted, he added. "There is considerable damage in the central city and we've also had reports of looting, just shop windows broken and easy picking of displays," police inspector Mike Coleman told Radio New Zealand. "It's very unsafe to be out and about." Christchurch International Airport was closed after the earthquake as a precaution, as experts checked the runways and terminal buildings, a spokesman said.

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