‘ Utter devastation’ after quake hits New Zealand
> At least two people killed, aftershocks rattle nerves
WELLINGTON: A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake pummelled central New Zealand early yesterday, killing at least two people, damaging roads and buildings and setting off hundreds of strong aftershocks.
Emergency response teams flew by helicopter to the region at the epicentre of the tremor, which struck just after midnight some 91km northeast of Christchurch in the South Island, amid reports of injuries and collapsed buildings.
“It’s just utter devastation, I just don’t know ... that’s months of work,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told civil defence minister Gerry Brownlee after flying over the coastal town of Kaikoura, according to Brownlee’s Twitter account.
He described landslips in the area as “just horrendous”.
In a statement, Key said of the likely damage bill: “You’ve got to believe it’s in the billions of dollars to resolve.”
Powerlines and telecommunications were down, with huge cracks in roads, land slips and other damage to infrastructure making it hard to reach the worst-affected areas.
A tsunami warning that led to mass evacuations after the original quake was downgraded after large swells hit New Zealand’s capital Wellington, in the North Island, and Christchurch.
Wellington was a virtual ghost town with workers ordered to stay away while the city council assessed the risk to buildings, several of which were damaged by the tremor.
There were concerns that loose glass and masonry could be dislodged by severe weather hitting the capital, with 140kph winds forecast.
Hundreds of aftershocks, the strongest a 6.2 quake at 1.45pm (8.45am in Malaysia), rattled the South Pacific country, fraying nerves in an area where memories of a deadly 2011 quake in Christchurch are still fresh.
New Zealand’s civil defence declared a state of emergency for the Kaikoura region, centred on a tourist town about 150km northeast of Christchurch, soon after yesterday’s large aftershock.
Kaikoura, a popular spot for whale watching, appeared to have borne the brunt of the quake.
“Our immediate priority is ensuring delivery of clean water, food and other essentials to the residents of Kaikoura and the estimated 1,000 tourists in the town,” Brownlee said.
Urban Search and Rescue said a 20person rescue team and two sniffer dogs had arrived in the town. A second team was on standby in Christchurch.
Police in the area around Christchurch reported 19 burglaries of homes and commercial properties after the quake as residents headed for higher ground.
“It is extremely disappointing that at a time when people are facing such a traumatic event and communities are coming together to support one another, there are others who are only interested in taking advantage,” Canterbury district police commander Superintendent John Price said in a statement. – Reuters
Residents Chris and Viv Young look at damage caused by the earthquake along State Highway One near the town of Ward in Blenheim, South Island, yesterday.