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Large earthquake hits Christchurch – national |

December 22, 2011


BREAKING NEWS: A large earthquake has hit Christchurch, injuring at least one person and disrupting power, phone services and retailers.

The magnitude 5.8 quake was 8km deep and centred 20km north east of Lyttelton. It struck at 1.58pm and was followed by a second sharp jolt a few minutes later. Several other aftershocks have also been recorded.


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The quake was felt as far south as Queenstown and as far north as Lower Hutt, according to GeoNet. People in Greymouth, Ashburton, Dunedin, Hanmer Springs and Oamaru also felt the quake.

There are early reports of liquefaction in the Christchurch suburb of Parklands and rockfalls in the Sumner area. Phone lines are down and power is out for 15,000 customers in the eastern suburbs.

Christchurch Airport has been evacuated and flights cancelled. Fairfax reporter Hamish Rutherford, who was at the airport, said the alarms had gone off, people had left the building, and were now waiting outside.

He said people kept calm while the building rocked from side to side during the strong quake, which lasted about 20 seconds.

Airport chief executive Jim Boult said full checks were being done of the runway, navigation systems and terminals.

“I’m pretty sure we will be open again this afternoon,” he told Radio New Zealand.

A lot of people had left the airport in their cars to return to their homes to check on their loved ones and properties, he said.

Boult advised people to check with their airlines before heading to airports, as there would be flight disruptions throughout the afternoon.


A visitor to the city said Westfield Mall was being evacuated. Terrified shoppers stumbled and fell as they fled the mall and items tumbled off shelves.

People shopping and working at the mall were almost in tears as they spoke of another Christmas marred by earthquakes.

Noelene Barron, who worked in the mall, said that while the quake was frightening, the worst thing was knowing that there were likely to be ongoing aftershocks now.

Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale said the shake came at the worst possible time for retailers, as people completed their Christmas shopping.

Ballantynes department store had closed for the day, even though it was brought up to 100 per cent of the earthquake code, after the February shake, he told Radio New Zealand.

While it was a sizable shake, there was no visible damage in the CBD, where 28 stores had reopened in containers, he said.

“It’s really the last thing we needed – a shake just before Christmas,” he said.

“We’ve had a hell of a year really in many respects.

“We thought it was close to being over, but perhaps not quite.”


There was no sign of any damage to the city, police spokesman Steven Hill said.

One person, who was at the Eastgate Mall in Linwood, had been injured and was taken to hospital, Hill said.

All the malls have been closed and the police patrols are searching the streets for damage.

The Lyttelton Tunnel remains open, Hill said.

A St John’s ambulance spokesman said they had received a number of calls and were attending to a range of incidents. He could not say what the nature of the calls were, but that the ambulance service was extremely busy.


Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority head Roger Sutton was at home ready for the holidays when the quake hit.

“I thought ‘bugger’,” he said.

“I’ve been at home checking on family. I’m running to work.”

Sutton seemed agitated, saying he had been stuck in traffic and had yet to a get a briefing.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker was at Lake Taupo getting ready to celebrate Christmas with his family when the quake hit.

He said he was desperately trying to get back home and was expected to land in Christchurch after 7.30pm.

“I’ve been texting family members to see if everyone is okay, everyone is very shaken. I haven’t heard any more significant problems at the moment.

“Inevitably it would have caused damaged to structures, we hope it hasn’t unsettled any rock falls, and we just have to hope the liquefaction issues don’t return.”

Parker said he felt “really worried” and wanted to get home.

“The randomness of this sort of event is very unsettling for everybody.”

Prime Minister John Key is in Auckland and was this afternoon being briefed on the situation.

“He will continue to be updated during the course of the afternoon as information comes in,” a spokesman said.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was today on the first day of a holiday out of town and could not be contacted immediately.

Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner is not in Christchurch but said her she had spoken to her staff who reported liquefaction in the streets in the eastern part of the city.

Ms Wagner was in Cheviot, North Canterbury, when the quake struck but said she felt the shaking.

She called her office who told her the house of one of her staff that had been damaged in an earlier quake had suffered further.

“They’re a bit nervous about going into it and liquefaction is coming up in the streets there, that’s in the east.”


St Martins resident Jo Davis said she could hear sirens and was hoping there weren’t injuries from the latest quake.

“I was terrified, I guess just because it’s been so long since we’ve had a decent one. We’ve had a TV and glasses fall over but no repeat of liquefaction like in June so I guess it’s not so bad.

“There were four kids here since it’s school holidays and the two-year-old in the sandpit was the least worried. The neighbours were screaming.”

Staff and visitors at the Ferrymead Heritage Park clung to each other as  the quake hit and emptied shelves in the gift shop.

”It was horrible – not as bad as the February one but horrible just the same,” a staff member said.

”We clung to each other – it seemed to go on for a long time.

”There was a noise but  there were lots of noises – the quake and then everything falling off shelves.”

No major damage to the park or its buildings at the foot of the Port Hills was immediately apparent.

Anthony Surynt was working in an electrical workshop in Sydenham when the quake struck.

He said it was the biggest one he has felt since June 13, when a 6.3 magnitude hit the city.

He could see the Grand Chancellor from where he was and said it was still standing.

Nothing had fallen off the shelves but it was quite a scare as there hadn’t been many large earthquakes in the area for a while, he said.

It lasted for about 10 to 15 seconds, but didn’t have any sharp “vicious movements” like the previous quakes had caused.

Shirley resident Jenny Dalziel said the quake was about 10 seconds long and shook things off shelves.

She said she was driving to her mother’s house and had spotted liquefaction bubbling up in some areas though it did not appear as serious as previous quakes.

Vanya Rothwell, of Linwood, was at Eastgate with her daughter and grandson. They were in their car in the parking lot.

“It felt as if we were towing a trailer or had hit another car and then it started to really bounce the car.”

They got out of the car when aftershocks hits. People were running out of the mall screaming, and children were crying, Rothwell says.


Last year Christchurch was rocked by a series of earthquakes on Boxing Day, with more than two dozen recorded.

A 4.9-magnitude quake at 10.30am was the 17th most powerful since the damaging 7.1 quake on September 4.

The earthquake that caused the most damage hit on February 22, killing 182 people.

– © Fairfax NZ News

Large earthquake hits Christchurch – national |

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