Past midnight, Monday morning, a devastating earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, hit New Zealand’s south island causing massive destruction to infrastructure and property; more importantly, two human lives were lost in the first hit.
The epicenter of the earthquake was near Kaikoura, almost half way between Kaikoura and Christchurch. According to the United States Geological Survey, the earthquake occurred 14 miles below the surface near the South Island.
What was to follow was a series of aftershocks of substantial magnitudes, some of them as high as 6.5. There were reports of 80, 000 to 100,000 landslides as a result of the aftershocks. Tremors were felt as far away as Wellington in the North Island.
The defence force of NZ posted aerial shots of “massive rockfalls in several areas in the upper South Island” on their Facebook page including some more posts relating to the quake and the rescue efforts underway. One of the posts read:
“The New Zealand Defence Force has mobilized multiple assets including personnel and at least three of its aircraft to support the Government’s response to the massive 7.5 earthquake that slammed North Canterbury early on Monday.
Photos taken from a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter show massive rockfalls in several areas in the upper South Island.” The aerial photographs of these landslides were uploaded below the post.
Tsunami warnings were sounded off by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre. According to them the tsunami that was generated was 8.2 feet above normal tide level. Civil Defence Controller John Mackie said that an estimated 20,000 people have been evacuated from coastal communities following the quake.
The worst hit area is the coastal town of Kaikoura, which has been isolated from the rest of the country. There are more than 1000 people, mostly tourists, estimated to be trapped in Kaikoura. It may take up to four days before all those stranded are safely airlifted. NZHMS Canterbury of the country’s navy will deliver supplies and help with the evacuation too.
The affected people are without water, electricity, and telecommunication. The rescue authorities are making every attempt to bring the situation back to normalcy. Meanwhile, evacuation attempts are on with the help of military choppers and a naval ship to rescue the people stranded in the town of Kaikoura.
Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said during a press conference, “There will be a lot of people out there very unnerved by this. The sort of holding hand you can put out to anyone who is distressed would be very welcome.”
According to an AP report, a huge number of citizens of inner city Wellington, probably in the thousands, left their homes for safer areas in the city. The NZ Prime minister John Key is said to have missed a call from Donald Trump as he was caught up in dealing with the disaster, although the call had been prearranged. This is what the NZ PM had to say about the diplomatic gaffe to the New Zealand Herald:
“What happened was there was a bit of a discussion between my office and his office on Saturday about a call,” he said. “We weren’t strictly sure when the president-elect was going to ring, they said it was in the next couple of hours.”
“I didn’t see the call when it came in, in the hurly burly of things I didn’t notice,” he said. “They then made contact with our foreign affairs people and said they had tried to call and hadn’t been successful.”
Although the earthquake was of a greater intensity than the one which hit Christchurch in 2011, fortunately, the destruction was lesser in proportion. Presumably, the reason, loss of life was not as high as the Christchurch quake of 2011, was the timing.
The first quake on Monday happened after midnight when people were safely in bed. The Christchurch quake of 2011, on the other hand, occurred at 12.51 in the afternoon, local time, killing 185 people. Situated in the “collision zone” between the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates.
New Zealand has a long history of earthquakes of varying magnitudes. It is reported that GNS Science locates over 15,000 earthquakes in New Zealand annually. About 100 – 150 of these quakes are large enough to be felt – the others that are not felt are recorded by seismographs.