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Tsunami follows earthquake in New Zealand


Tsunami follows earthquake in New Zealand

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WELLINGTON – A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake and a series of aftershocks shook New Zealand in the early hours of Monday, generating a tsunami and sending thousands of people fleeing for higher ground.

Emergency response teams were dispatched by helicopter to the region that bore the epicentre of the quake, some 91 km (57 miles) north-northeast of Christchurch in the South Island, amid reports of injuries and collapsed buildings. There were no immediate reports of deaths.

Power was out and phone lines down in many areas of the country, roads were blocked by landslips and the Civil Defence Ministry warned that waves of up to five metres (yards) remained a risk for several hours.

“The first waves have arrived but we know that it is too early to say what the impact has been,” said Sarah Stuart-Black, national controller at the Ministry of Civil Defence. “Our concern is what is coming. Future waves are coming that may be bigger than what has come before.”

The first tremor, just 15 kms deep, struck the island nation just after midnight, jolting many from their sleep and raising memories of the 6.3 magnitude Christchurch quake in 2011, which killed 185 people. New Zealand’s Geonet measured Monday’s quake at magnitude 7.5.

New Zealand lies in the seismically active “Ring of Fire”, a 40,000 kilometre arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that partly encircles the Pacific Ocean. Around 90 per cent of the world’s earthquakes occur within this region.

St John Ambulance said it was sending helicopters carrying medical and rescue personnel to the coastal tourist town of Kaikoura. It is completely cut off and officials said there are reports of a collapsed building.

“There are some reports of casualties but the picture will be clearer as day breaks,” Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said.

In Wellington, there was gridlock on the roads to Mount Victoria, a hill with a lookout over the low-lying coastal city, as residents headed for higher ground. (Reuters)