A powerful 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck much of New Zealand’s South Island early on Saturday.
No tsunami alert was issued and there were no reports of injuries, but looters broke into some damaged shops in Christchurch, police said.
The quake, which hit 30km west of the southern city of Christchurch, shook a wide area, with some residents saying buildings had collapsed and power was severed.
Christchurch police reported road damage in parts of the city of 400,000 people, with a series of sharp aftershocks rocking the area. Police officers cordoned off some streets where rubble was strewn about.
“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 New Zealand’s National Radio. “It’s very unsafe to be out and about.”
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said the “sharp, vicious earthquake has caused significant damage in parts of the city... with walls collapsed that have fallen into the streets”.
Chimneys and walls had fallen from older buildings, with roads blocked, traffic lights out and power, gas and water supplies disrupted, he said.
“The fronts of at least five buildings in the central city have collapsed and rubble is strewn across many roads,” Christchurch resident Angela Morgan said.
“Roads have subsided where water mains have broken and a lot of people evacuated in panic from seaside areas for fear of a tsunami,” she said, adding that “there is quite significant damage, really, with reports that some people were trapped in damaged houses”.
Suburban dweller Mark O’Connell said his house was full of smashed glass, food tossed from shelves, with sets of drawers, TVs and computers tipped over.
“She was a beauty, we were thrown from wall to wall as we tried to escape down the stairs to get to safety,” he said.