Fri, Jul 17, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Hikers warned to avoid New Zealand park after quake

PLAYING IT SAFE Fiordland National Park authorities advised those planning trips to the area to await the results of ongoing safety checks

AFP , WELLINGTON

New Zealand authorities warned people against entering a remote southern national park yesterday while they checked for damage from the country’s largest earthquake in 78 years.

Following the 7.8 magnitude quake, civil defense officials were carrying out an extensive aerial search of the South Westland region of South Island and ground parties were checking on hikers known to be in the area.

The powerful tremor, which prompted a tsunami warning after it struck at on Wednesday night, was followed by several strong aftershocks. It was centered 35km deep off the coast of the South Westland region and there were no reports of serious damage.

However, following an aerial sweep by the regional civil defense, coordinator Neil Cruickshank said a risk remained.

“This was a very large earthquake and it will have shaken many people out of complacency,” he said. “It is worth noting that this quake was not on the Alpine Fault, and we remain at risk from a significant earthquake from that faultline.”

The quake was felt as far away as Australia, where a performance at Bondi Pavilion in Sydney was reported to have been canceled and theatergoers evacuated on fears of a tsunami.

About 50 people were also evacuated from homes and resorts on Lord Howe Island, between Australia and New Zealand.

17CM SURGE

However, there was only a small surge of water, about 17cm high, and the tsunami warning was canceled after its size was confirmed when it reached the port of Bluff, near Invercargill, about an hour after the quake.

At first light yesterday, department of conservation teams entered the Fiordland National Park, which is popular with hikers, and said their priority was to check on people known to be in the area.

“It is advisable for anyone planning a trip into the park to wait for the outcome of the safety checks currently under way,” the department said in a statement.

It reported some land slips in the area, but said hikers were able to leave the park on foot.

‘THRILL’

One South Westland resident described the huge quake as a “thrill,” a TV report said.

“It was an excellent one to have because it didn’t seem to do any damage but it gave you the excitement and thrill,” the man said.

The tremor was being described as a rolling motion rather than a sharp jolt, meaning minimal damage might be reported, Insurance Council of New Zealand chief executive Chris Ryan said.

Several quakes of up to 6.1 magnitude continued to rock the area yesterday, and another of 5.4 hit the western North Island district of Taranaki.

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