Magnitude 6.3 earthquake hits NZ

A magnitude-6.3 earthquake has struck New Zealand’s South Island causing widespread damage and injuries as well as multiple fatalities.

The tremor occurred at 12:51pm local time on Tuesday afternoon with an epicentre near Christchurch, New Zealand at a shallow depth of 5 km. Several aftershocks struck the region in the hours that followed, including two with magnitudes greater than 5.0 (a 5.6 and 5.5). Based on initial reports coming out of Christchurch (New Zealand’s second largest city), the main earthquake violently shook the region for nearly one full minute and shaking was also felt as far north as Waiuku (just south of Auckland) and as far south as Dunedin.

Benfield’s Cat Alert reports that the New Zealand government has activated its National Crisis Centre, and medical officials have established triage centres for the injured at Latimer Square, Spotlight Mall in Sydenham and Sanitarium in Papanui.

More than 14,000 earthquakes a year strike New Zealand, though only about 150 are felt by residents, and fewer than 10 on average cause any level of damage.

Local media reports that buildings have collapsed into roads, parked cars have been buried under rubble, water mains have burst, streets and sidewalks have split and fires are burning in the city. Several roads were lifted vertically by as much as one metre. Two buses on Colombo Street have also been crushed by fallen masonry. Christchurch’s city centre has reportedly sustained significant effects, where older buildings have either been seriously damaged or in fact fully collapsed. There have also been reports of injuries at the main city council building.

Preliminary damage reports note that damage has occurred to Christchurch’s historic 106-year-old Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on Barbadoes Street, where half of the building has reportedly fallen and the other half is filled with cracks. Additional reports included the Christchurch Airport being closed, the carpark at the Christchurch Star having turned into a river with deep cracks, local hospitals being evacuated, the spire on the 147-year-old Christchurch Cathedral collapsing, liquefaction occurring at St. Albans High School, extensive flooding on roads (most notably on Tuam Street) and people trapped in buildings. There have also been widespread power outages and a loss of telecommunications after lines being downed. Rescue officials were struggling to reach some of the hardest hit areas due to gridlocked traffic as the earthquake occurred during the busiest time of the day in the city.

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