Powerful earthquake shakes New Zealand

By: Isabel Demarco ~Staff Writer~

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit New Zealand early Monday, causing the deaths of at least two people and a large amount of damage to roads throughout the country. The region has continued to be hit by large aftershocks following the earthquake.

After the initial earthquake, another one measuring 6.4 magnitude hit the same area, causing greater damage and tsunamis.

The New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management cautioned that citizens residing near the coast move inland as a means of avoiding the large waves and large amounts of flooding.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced that the death toll from this event was at least two people and urged citizens to stay inside and away from the business district until the damage could be accurately assessed. It is unsure how long this assessment will take.

One of the recorded deaths was caused by a heart attack and officials report that the other took place near a beach town.

“There are some reports of casualties in the Kaikoura area, but just exactly what the extent of that is is not yet reported,” Gerry Brownlee, the country’s minister of civil defense.

Citizens have been urged to stay put. Helicopters are currently being used to assess the damage caused to roads and buildings.

Citizens living along 200 miles of the coastline were evacuated and there was minor damage to the capital.

In 2011, an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude struck this same area, causing the deaths of 185 people. The wounds caused by that disaster are still fresh in the minds of many New Zealanders, as it reduced the city of Christchurch to rubble. The most recent earthquake was 40 to 50 times larger and left rescuers in shock that more damage and death was not caused.

Despite the few casualties, New Zealand will be feeling the effects of the quakes in the future. GeoNet, a government-funded project monitoring earthquakes, said that aftershocks would continue over the next few months.