New Zealand authorities have declared an overnight curfew in Christchurch after a major earthquake hit the country’s second biggest city, bringing down power lines and bridges and wrecking roads and building facades.
A state of emergency has been declared and police say the curfew is intended to protect people from falling debris.
One resident in Darfield at the epicentre of the earthquake said it sounded like a jet going over and that the aftershocks have been almost as strong as the quake itself.
The 7.4-magnitude quake caused extensive damage to buildings and homes; sewerage is leaking into the streets in the worst affected areas of Christchurch and there are fears of water contamination.
In many parts of the city and surrounding rural areas roads have buckled, some have fallen away altogether and bridges are down.
The airport has been reopened and extra police and the army are being flown into Christchurch to help with the recovery effort.
Electricity has been restored to most of the South Island city and about 80 per cent of rural areas. But the task of repairing and rebuilding damaged homes, roads, bridges and rail lines is huge.
Streets in the city are blocked by rubble and the weather bureau is forecasting gale force winds on Sunday afternoon, raising concerns about further damage to already fragile buildings.
Residents are also being told to conserve water.
Prime minister John Key earlier said it had been a bad day for the country’s South Island, after a fatal plane crash also killed nine people, including one Australian, on another part of the island on the same day.
A number of people have been injured in the quake, two seriously, but Mr Key says it is extremely fortunate that so far no-one has been killed.
“I think we’ve got to say at this point, hopefully this will be the situation that we won’t lose anyone as a result of the earthquake,” he said.
“It’s an absolute miracle that no-one’s been killed, because this is a very, very sizeable earthquake in a very populated part of New Zealand.”
Mr Key visited the city and says the government is on hand to support residents dealing with the aftermath.
He says he has been given a snapshot of the damage while flying into the city on a military aircraft which flew over some of the affected areas.
The prime minister says as well as concern for buildings the really big issues are water, waste water and sewage which will have a very large price tag to repair.
“This is our second largest city in New Zealand and we just simply can’t let the people suffer under what is a natural disaster; the worst we’ve seen since the Inangahua earthquake in the ’60s,” he said.
“The government’s going to step up and make a sizeable contribution.
“It’ll take some time to assess buildings and it will probably take some months before we know the full extent of it. But clearly early indications are it could run into billions of dollars.”
Meanwhile, scientists say aftershocks from the earthquake could continue for days or even weeks.
Canterbury University geologist Mark Quigley lives in one of the worst-affected areas and says aftershocks are happening about every half hour.
“They’re coming fast and they’re generally in the order of magnitude fours to magnitude fives,” he said.
“They’re still actually decent earthquakes which on their own people would certainly feel, but now compared to the first one they’re smaller.”
Mr Quigley says the most severe aftershocks usually happen within the first 48 hours of a big quake.
Resident Susannah Symonds earlier said she had felt about 50 aftershocks.
“It lasted a good, probably, maybe, 15, 20 seconds and we couldn’t see where we were going,” she said.
“Things were just falling over on the floor; it was just unbelievable. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced.”