Sat, Dec 25, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Monster quake hits Antarctic waters near New Zealand

DPA , WELLINGTON

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake that struck in Antarctic waters on yesterday -- the biggest recorded in the world this year -- would have devastated a city had it been much closer, according to a New Zealand seismologist.

"It is a whopper," Ken Gledhill, of the Seismological Observatory in Wellington, told Radio New Zealand, speaking of the quake felt in New Zealand and Australia. "This is what they call a `real earthquake.'"

"There are not many earthquakes of that size on the planet," he said. "It's a long way from us, thank goodness. Anything of that magnitude you don't want to be near them, that's for sure."

New Zealand is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries and there are strict legal construction regulations to try to limit damage to buildings and casualties.

But Gledhill said: "Even with really good building standards, if you have a shallow quake of that magnitude there's really nothing you can do about it."

He said an earthquake of that size near a major populated area would produce massive landslides, building damage and casualties.

The subterranean quake, 33km below the earth's surface, was centred 700km southeast of Hobart, in Australia's Tasmania state, where it was reported to have been felt, and 820km southwest of New Zealand's southernmost city of Invercargill.

There were no reports of damage from the early morning quake, though the Seismological Observatory said it received 70 reports of it being felt over a wide area in the South Island.

A South Island police officer said it was felt as a rolling movement rather than a sharp jolt.

"It was like being on a little boat on the sea really," Sergeant Peter Payne told Radio New Zealand.

The quake struck north of Macquarie Island just before 4am.

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