The authorities in New Zealand have confirmed there have been casualties in the powerful earthquake that struck the South Island around 90 kilometres north of Christchurch.
Prime Minister John Key has said two people were killed. Police said one of the victims was found in a house in the coastal tourist town of Kaikoura, near the quake’s epicentre.
The region that bore the brunt of the 7.8 magnitude tremor was north of Christchurch on the South Island, where there were reports of injuries and collapsed buildings.
It generated a tsunami: the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management warned of the risk of destructive waves along the entire east coast, warning people to move to higher ground.
At a specially-convened news conference the prime minister said:
“We now know that those around the country that tsunami risk has been downgraded to coastal warnings. But we also urge people to continue to be cautious”.
John Key added that a military helicopter was being dispatched to Kaikoura. Social media saw many appeals for news of people in the town.
A series of aftershocks were recorded around the country, some as strong as 6.1 magnitude.
Officials in Cheviot, a coastal town near the quake’s epicentre, evacuated residents. In Wellington glass fell from buildings into the streets, and hotels and apartment buildings were evacuated. The city council reported structural damage to several buildings.
Christchurch was devastated by a 6.3 earthquake in 2011 that left 185 people dead and damaged the city centre.
New Zealand lies in the earthquake-prone “Ring of Fire” region that partly encircles the Pacific Ocean, where most of the world’s earthquakes occur.