Tsunami warnings canceled after 7.8 quake off NZ

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Water pipes were broken and fallen power lines lay on the ground Thursday in Invercargill, the southern New Zealand city closest to an earthquake that struck off the coast the night before.

Prime Minister John Key was due to fly to Invercargill later Thursday on a previously scheduled visit.

"All the feedback we've had so far is while it's been a large quake, certainly at this point no reported loss of life which is fantastic, and no great reports of damage," Key told Radio New Zealand.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck off New Zealand's western coast Wednesday, generating a small tsunami. No injuries or major damage were reported.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii warned that a tsunami was generated, but it later said the waves were less than 8 inches 20 centimeters in height and the warning was canceled after about an hour.

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre also issued a tsunami alert for eastern Australia that was canceled overnight.

The quake's epicenter was 100 miles 161 kilometers west of Invercargill, off the west coast of New Zealand's South Island at a depth of 21 miles 33 kilometers, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It hit at 0922 GMT on Wednesday.

Civil defense officials in Invercargill said phone services were disrupted in some parts of the city, water pipes had broken and power lines had been brought down but damage appeared to be minor. More reports were expected when buildings were surveyed in daylight.

The quake was felt widely across the South Island. Police in the town of Tuatapere said they had reports of minor cracks in buildings and stock falling from supermarket shelves.

However, no reports of serious damage or injuries were received, police said.

GNS Science geologist Bill Fry said the largest danger might be from landslides but noted that the Fiordland and Southland regions were sparsely populated, which reduced the risk of casualties.

"The shallower an earthquake is, the more shaking there's going to be and this was quite shallow," he said.

Scientists with New Zealand's Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences were working with their U.S. counterparts late Wednesday to reconcile their readings with those taken overseas. The quake was reported locally at 6.6 magnitude before reports from the U.S. listed it at 7.8 magnitude and as high as 8.2.

Scientists in New Zealand reported aftershocks, the first of 6.1 magnitude occurring 19 minutes after the main temblor.

New Zealand sits above an area of the Earth's crust where the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates collide and records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, though only about 150 are felt by residents. Fewer than 10 temblors a year do any damage.


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