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Severe earthquakes slam NZ North and South Islands

July 22, 2013 DESTINATION, Headline News No Comments Email Email

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Two and a half years after an earthquake devastated much of Christchurch, a 6.9 magnitude quake, along with several other big shocks of similar force, struck Wellington and the top of the South Island in New Zealand yesterday.

Yesterday evening’s earthquake followed a sequence of smaller shocks around the Wellington/Cook Strait area. The area was shaking virtually all day, as a series of aftershocks followed a 5.8 magnitude quake in Cook Strait in the early morning. Cook Strait separates the North and South Islands.

Considerable minor damage was reported around the New Zealand capital, such as cracks in buildings and roads, but the only report of injury was a man knocked unconscious by a falling television set. US Ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner was shaken off his seat and onto the floor while watching The World’s End at a cinema near Wellington. He was unhurt.

For comparison, the quake that did most damage in Christchurch in February 2011 measured 6.3 magnitude – though many other factors come into play in how much damage an earthquake causes. Yesterday’s big quake was located 50 km from Wellingon.

“If it had been under the city [Wellington], we would have been looking at equal damage or close to what happened in Christchurch,” a seismologist from the New Zealand Government’s GNS Science told Wellington’s Dominion Post.

Some reports rated yesterday’s New Zealand quake at 6.5 but Reuters was sticking with 6.9. A picture posted on Twitter showed windows shattered in the Quest Apartments, a prominent landmark Art Deco inspired heritage building in Hunter Street, Wellington. They city’s Mercure Hotel was reportedly among buildings evacuated, with 76 guests escorted out.

Glass from broken windows showered onto Lambton Quay, one of Wellington’s main streets, and power cuts were reported. Some people were trapped in lifts and the country’s Parliament Buildings were damaged. Firefighters cordoned-off part of Civic Square in the central city as water gushed from a quake-damaged building. They also closed some other central Wellington streets.

The New Zealand Herald said Wellington airport closed its runway for about 20 minutes for a routine inspection to ensure it was still in working order. A couple of domestic flights were cancelled or diverted. All suburban trains on Wellington’s rail network were cancelled while tunnels and bridges were checked.

People were last night being advised to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel while roads, buildings and other structures were checked.

New Zealand’s capital city lies within the earthquake-generating collision zone between two of the Earth’s great tectonic plates, and sits on top of one of the zone’s most active geological faults – the Wellington Fault.

New Zealand is located on the Ring of Fire in the basin of the Pacific Ocean, where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. Spread over a 40,000-kilometre horseshoe shape, the ring is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, volcanic belts and/or plate movements. New Zealand experiences up to 15,000 tremors a year, most virtually imperceptible.

Written by Peter Needham

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