A large earthquake with a magnitude of 7.4 has rocked New Zealand’s second biggest city, Christchurch.
The quake, which had a depth of 33km, was felt throughout much of the South Island and southern parts of the North Island.
It has reportedly caused widespread damage, including the collapse of some buildings. It has also knocked out power and disrupted water services.
Many people with minor injuries sought treatment, but hospitals say there are no reports of any serious injuries.
Doctors, though, are on standby because of the intensity of the quake and the damage to buildings.
The civil defence ministry says the national crisis management centre has been activated.
Roads in coastal suburbs were packed with cars as residents moved inland, but no tsunami alerts were issued.
Journalist Tim Dower says there is a lot of rubble in the streets.
“We’ve had a number of reports of facade buildings collapsing, many stone buildings in that part of the country and a lot of those have come down,” he said.
The assistant editor of The Press newspaper in Christchurch, Colin Espiner, has told ABC Radio the quake is one of the strongest to ever hit the South Island.
“We’re told structural damage to buildings, bridges are damaged, some roads that’ve been ripped up, that sort of thing,” he said.
“No injuries as of yet which is good news but plenty of frightened people. The power is out to most of the city.”
He says the quake was felt along New Zealand’s east coast.
“There’s been reports of damage and that the earthquake [was] felt from Dunedin right up to Wellington,” he said.
“[People living] on the east coast between the two cities also felt it quite strongly.
“But because it was centred so close to Christchurch that’s been where the major damage has been occuring.”
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told Radio New Zealand there was a lot of damage in the central city area.
Radio New Zealand says the quake lasted up to 40 seconds.
Geoscience Australia senior seismologist Clive James says powerful aftershocks of 5.4 have been felt.
He says the cause of the earthquake is the junction of two plates.
“It’s the junction of the Pacific and the Australian plates that goes all along New Zealand there, this is the manifestation of that,” he said.