New Zealand’s South Island was under a state of emergency today and rocked by aftershocks after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake caused widespread damage.
But despite the severity of yesterday’s quake, there were just two reports of serious injuries. Looters broke into some damaged shops in Christchurch, police said.
The quake, which hit 19 miles west of Christchurch, according to the state geological agency GNS Science, shook a wide area, with some saying buildings had collapsed and power cut. No tsunami alert was issued.
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency four hours after the quake rocked the region, warning people that continuing aftershocks could cause masonry to fall from damaged buildings.
The emergency meant parts of the city would be closed off and some buildings closed as unsafe, he said.
Minister of civil defence John Carter said a state of civil emergency was declared as the quake was “a significant disaster” and army troops were on standby to assist.
He 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.”
Ms Morgan said “there is quite significant damage, really, with reports that some people were trapped in damaged houses”.
Christchurch fire service spokesman Mike Bowden said a number of people had been trapped in buildings by fallen chimneys and blocked entrances, but there were no reports of people pinned under rubble. Rescue teams were checking premises.
Christchurch Hospital said it had treated two men with serious injuries and a number of people with minor injuries.
One man was hit by a falling chimney and was in intensive care, while a second was badly cut by glass, hospital spokeswoman Michele Hider said.
Christchurch police reported road damage in parts of the city of 400,000 people, with a series of sharp aftershocks rocking the area.
Police cordoned off some streets where rubble was strewn about. Video showed parked cars crushed by heaps of fallen bricks, and buckled roads.
“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.
Inspector Alf Stewart said some people had been arrested for looting.
“We have some reports of people smashing (shopfront) windows and trying to grab some property that is not theirs ... we’ve got police on the streets and we’re dealing with that,” he said.
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.
“It was pitch black (with the power cut) and we walked through smashed glass everywhere on the floor.”
The quake hit at 4.35am local time (5.35pm Irish time). At least 12 aftershocks have rocked the region since, ranging from 5.3 to 3.9 in magnitude, GNS Science said.
New Zealand’s last major earthquake was a magnitude 7.8 in South Island’s Fiordland region on July 16, 2009 – a temblor which moved the southern tip of the country 12 inches closer to Australia.