A 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook New Zealand early Monday, killing at least two people and prompting a tsunami warning that sent thousands fleeing to higher ground.
The quake, which hit just after midnight, had its epicenter some 91 kilometers northeast of Christchurch in the South Island, Reuters reports.
Hundreds of aftershocks, the strongest measuring 6.1, continued to shake the country well into mid-morning.
Amid reports of injuries and collapsed buildings, emergency response teams were flying by helicopter to the region.
Powerlines and telecommunications were down, and daylight revealed sizeable cracks in roads and damage to infrastructure.
“It was the most significant shock I can remember in Wellington,” Prime Minister John Key told reporters at a dawn news conference in the capital city.
“There will be quite major costs around roads and infrastructure.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged assistance.
The first tremor struck just 23 km deep, jolting many from their sleep and raising memories of the 6.3 magnitude Christchurch quake in 2011, which killed 185 people.
But a tsunami warning that led to mass evacuations was downgraded after large swells hit Wellington, in the North Island, and Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city.
New Zealand lies in the seismically active “Ring of Fire”, a 40,000 km arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that partly encircles the Pacific Ocean.
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