A series of strong earthquakes struck the New Zealand city of Christchurch yesterday, rattling buildings, sending goods tumbling from shelves and prompting terrified holiday shoppers to flee into the streets.
There was no tsunami alert issued and the city appeared to have been spared major damage.
One person was injured at a city mall and was taken to a hospital and four people had to be rescued after being trapped by a rock fall, Christchurch police said in a statement.
However, there were no immediate reports of serious injuries or widespread damage in the city, which is still recovering from a devastating earthquake in February that killed 182 people and destroyed much of the downtown area.
The first 5.8 magnitude quake struck yesterday afternoon, 26km north of Christchurch and 4km deep, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. Minutes later, a magnitude 5.3 aftershock hit.
About an hour after that, the city was shaken by another 5.8 magnitude temblor, the USGS said, though New Zealand’s geological agency, GNS Science, recorded that aftershock at magnitude 6. Both aftershocks were less than 5km deep.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue an alert.
The city’s airport was evacuated after the first quake and all city malls shut down as a precaution.
About 60 people were treated for minor injuries, including fractures, injuries sustained in falls and people with “emotional difficulties,” Christchurch St John Ambulance operations manager Tony Dowell said.
“We have had no significant injuries reported as a result of the earthquakes today,” he said.
Demolitions manager for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, Warwick Isaacs, said most buildings had been evacuated “as an emergency measure.”
The area has recorded more than 7,000 earthquakes since a magnitude 7 quake rocked the city on Sept. 4 last year. That quake did not cause any deaths.
Rock falls had occurred in one area and there was liquefaction — when an earthquake forces underground water up through loose soil — in several places, Isaacs told New Zealand’s National Radio.
“There has been quite a lot of stuff falling out of cupboards, off shelves in shops and that sort of thing, again,” he said.
Isaacs said his immediate concern was for demolition workers involved in tearing down buildings wrecked in previous quakes.
“It ... started slow then really got going. It was a big swaying one, but not as jolting or as violent as in February,” Christchurch resident Rita Langley said.
“Everyone seems fairly chilled, though the traffic buildup sounds like a beehive that has just been kicked as everyone leaves [the] town [center],” she added.
The shaking was severe in the nearby port town of Lyttelton, the epicenter of the Feb. 22 quake.
“We stayed inside until the shaking stopped. Then most people went out into the street outside,” resident Andrew Turner said. “People are emotionally shocked by what happened this afternoon.”
Around 26,000 homes were without power in Christchurch after the shaking tripped switches that cut supplies, Orion energy company CEO Rob Jamieson said.
“We don’t seem to have damage to our equipment,” he said. “We hope to have power back on to those customers by nightfall.”
Hundreds of kilometers of sewer and fresh water lines have been repaired in the city since the February quake.