Strong earthquakes shake central New Zealand

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 10:54am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 August, 2013, 2:53am

Strong earthquakes shook central New Zealand on Friday, disrupting traffic and sending office workers scrambling for cover in the capital.

Some buildings in Wellington were evacuated, and items were knocked off shelves in places. Police were trying to verify reports that one house near the epicentre was severely damaged. There were no initial reports of injuries.

The first quake, a magnitude-6.5, struck just after 2.30pm local time near the small South Island town of Seddon, followed by several aftershocks of magnitude-5 or stronger.

Some buildings in Wellington were evacuated, and items were knocked off shelves in places

Police said a number of people were freed from Wellington lifts that stopped working. The initial temblor also temporarily closed down the nation’s stock exchange. It was reopened at 3.45pm.

Boulders fell onto State Highway 1, the major route for traffic near Seddon, said police spokeswoman Barbara Dunn. Police closed a section of the highway.

Dunn said she was trying to verify reports that one home in the area had been severely damaged.

The US Geological Survey said the epicentre of the initial temblor was 94 kilometres west of Wellington at a depth of 10km.

Local authorities issued no tsunami warnings.

A quake of a similar strength in the same area three weeks ago broke water mains, smashed windows and downed power lines.

New Zealand is part of the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire” that has regular seismic activity. A severe earthquake in the city of Christchurch in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed much of the city’s downtown.