New Zealand earthquake: two dead as tsunami threat passes

Damage on a Wellington street after the quake.

Wellington city workers told to stay at home

It is now 9am in New Zealand and the full impact of the overnight 7.5 magnitude earthquake is beginning to be understood. Power is out and phone lines are still down in some areas and roads have cracked and sunk by up to half a metre, restricting access by emergency services.

The small North Canterbury township of Waiau is feared to be worst hit along with Kaikoura, the scene of one of the casualties. Paramedics are being flown by helicopter to Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura, where a command unit is being established.

New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, has suffered some damage with workers in the city centre told to stay home. Ships and ferries are waiting in the harbour until authorities can assess the damage to wharves before they dock, which is expected to be in the mid-afternoon.

Wellington City Council posted an update stating that it was likely not all buildings would be able to be made safe and there was a risk the forecast winds of up to 140kmh could bring glass and other materials into the streets.

Sarah Stuart-Black, director of Civil Defence and Emergency Management in New Zealand, told Radio New Zealand that the areas they remain most concerned about are the areas for which there remains a tsunami warning – coastal areas from Napier to north of Dunedin, Cook Straight coastal areas and The Chatham Islands.

She reiterated that people in those areas should stay away from beaches, rivers and estuaries, as there could be large waves and unusual currents.

Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has spoken to Channel Seven’s Sunrise about the New Zealand quake.

He said:
“I spoke with John Key a few moments ago. I assured him of absolute solidarity and support from Australia. John appreciated that. He knows that we support them when it comes to emergencies and natural disasters.”
Turnbull did not offer any details about what support Australia would be prepared to provide.

He offered condolences:

“So far they have reports of two deaths, and be passed on our condolences there. But obviously, it is early days. [John Key] is a great leader. New Zealand is very experienced with dealing with earthquakes, and I am sure he will have the matter in hand.”

Australian Associated Press reports that the New Zealand dollar has fallen to its lowest level in about a month after last night’s quake.

The kiwi fell to 70.88 US cents as at 8am in Wellington, from 71.26 cents in late New York trading on Friday. The trade-weighted index fell to 76.97 from 77.21.

“The kiwi was under pressure against the US dollar last week but this morning it is all about the earthquake,” said ANZ’s Philip Borkin.

“Until we get greater clarity I think the bias will remain to the downside.” Until then, it wasn’t clear if the latest quakes would have the economic impact of the Christchurch quakes or amount to a minor shutdown in Wellington, he said. “Markets don’t like uncertainty.”

The local currency fell to 75.54 yen from 75.99 yen on Friday in New York. It fell to 93.84 Australian cents from 94.35 cents and declined to 4.8235 yuan from 4.8521 yuan, dropped to 56.21 British pence from 56.52 pence and slipped to 65.42 euro cents from 65.62 cents.

She reports some comments from the New Zealand prime minister:

The prime minister, John Key, said the quake was the most significant he could remember feeling in Wellington.

“I know from the Christchurch earthquakes how much it undermines people’s confidence, but I want to reassure people that there will be support there. It was a very significant shock.”

Key said he was unable to give further information on the fatalities until authorities had confirmed all the details. He said officials had no reason to believe the death toll would rise.

“On the very best information we have at the moment, we think it’s only likely to be two. But of course there are isolated parts of the country which we don’t have perfect eyes on, so we can’t be 100% sure,” he said.

You can read the full report here.

Geoscience New Zealand: two separate quakes may be to blame

A video

A photo of a road with a deep, wide crack down its middle served as sobering evidence of the temblor’s force.
A large fissure formed on Kaikoura Road north of Christchurch.

“This is the strongest [earthquake] I’ve ever felt,” Tamara Hunt told CNN. She was with her husband at their home in Whanganui when the earthquake struck.
“It started off so small, like the cat moving in the bed, but then it started building and I had to run to the door. Stuff in the house was falling over and the doors were swaying really bad,” she said. “Then we decided to get out, and that’s when we saw our pool had lost a lot of water. The earthquake went on for two minutes.”
The South Island has been hit by a flurry of aftershocks, according to the USGS and New Zealand’s Geonet service, some with a magnitude above 6.0. Officials from the island’s second-largest town, Dunedin, called a state of emergency there.

Life in a ‘collision zone’

Residents around the epicenter reported shaking for minutes that sent grocery items flying from shelves.

The USGS initially reported the quake’s magnitude at 7.4 at a depth of just 10 kilometers — shallow enough to cause serious destruction to the immediate surrounding area. It later revised the quake strength to 7.8, but changed its depth to 23 (14.2 miles) kilometers, giving more of a buffer between the epicenter and the Earth’s surface.
New Zealand is regularly hit by earthquakes as it sits in a “collision zone” between the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates. It is part of the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped belt around the ocean’s edges where many earthquakes and volcano eruptions occur.

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