Big quake jolts cities across New Zealand

AFP-JIJI

A powerful earthquake rattled major cities across New Zealand on Friday, sending terrified office workers fleeing as central Wellington shook “like jelly,” but authorities reported no major damage.

The 6.5-magnitude quake struck at 2:31 p.m. near an area where a series of temblors occurred last month, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The latest jolt was felt from Christchurch to Auckland.

The U.S. agency, which initially measured the quake at magnitude 6.8, said it was centered 5 km east of the town of Seddon at a relatively shallow depth of 9.9 km.

A cluster of major aftershocks measuring up to 5.9 followed, but no tsunami alert was issued.

The quake caused violent jolts in Wellington, where office workers dived under their desks for cover as buildings swayed and police had to rescue a number of people trapped in lifts.

“Lots of aftershocks. ‘Beehive’ wobbling around like a jelly, but all OK,” Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said on Twitter, referring to New Zealand’s distinctive parliament building in Wellington.

Local resident Juli Ryan tweeted: “That was pretty wild, I was sitting in my parked car watching buildings shake like leaves.”

Other witnesses said the powerful shaking felt like a jackhammer and left them struggling to stay on their feet.

“I feel a bit queasy, it was swaying so much. I waited about 10 seconds and got under my table, then we decided to get out,” Sam Stanley, who works in the New Zealand stock exchange building, told Fairfax Media.

Workers poured into the streets as aftershocks continued to rock high-rise buildings through the afternoon, with businesses telling employees to leave early and get out of the downtown area, causing gridlock in the capital.

Trains were also out of action due to potential danger from buckled rails, leaving masses of commuters struggling to get home.

There were power cuts to areas of the South Island, where a rockfall closed the major highway.

Police said there was some damage to buildings in the area, but no major injuries or significant damage were reported anywhere in the country.