By Calvin Palmer
New Zealand’s South Island was struck early Saturday by a powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake causing some buildings to collapse and widespread power outages.
The earthquake hit 19 miles west of Christchurch, a city of 400,000 inhabitants.
Power is out to most of Christchurch and rural Canterbury, and the central city has been closed down by police because of the amount of rubble in the streets. Water pipes have ruptured and there are reports of flooding in some eastern Christchurch areas.
Civil Defence emergency manager Andrew Howe said there were no reports of serious injuries.
“The fronts of at least five buildings in the central city have collapsed and rubble is strewn across many roads,” said Christchurch resident Angela Morgan.
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.
“We were thrown from wall to wall as we tried to escape down the stairs to get to safety,” he said.
Historic Godley House has suffered very serious damage. Owner Richard Hawes said he thought he was going to die as he was on the second floor of the 130-year-old homestead and when it “wobbled like a jelly”.
The building now has cracks from the foundation upwards with many windows out and a large hole in a wall.
A spokesperson for lines company Orion said sewer lines and water pipes have ruptured, and whole substations are offline. Power is off to several Christchurch suburbs and all of rural Canterbury.
Residents have been urged to conserve water.
Police are investigating reports of looting in Colombo St in central Christchurch and additional police have been sent out to patrol the city streets.
The Director of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, John Hamilton, said that the National Crisis Management Centre has been activated to co-ordinate central government response if required.
The rail network in the South Island has been shut down while it is inspected for damage.
The earthquake, which struck at 4:35 a.m., was 21 miles below the Earth’s surface, the geological agency GNS Science said.
Several aftershocks have been felt, one reaching a 4.9 magnitude at 5.26 a.m. and another a magnitude of 4.6 at 5.55 a.m.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said “no destructive widespread tsunami threat existed, based on historical earthquake and tsunami data.”