A magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck central New Zealand today, shaking the capital city Wellington and sending the nation’s currency down almost half a U.S. cent.
The country’s stock exchange was temporarily closed and buildings including Statistics New Zealand were evacuated as aftershocks of up to magnitude 6.3 continued to rattle office blocks in the central city. The initial quake’s magnitude was upgraded from 6.2 by seismic monitoring service Geonet. Police said there were no immediate reports of injuries.
The quake, which hit at 2:31 p.m. local time, was centered at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island about 72 kilometers (45 miles) south of Wellington at a depth of 8 kilometers, according to GNS Science’s Geonet website. It lasted at least 30 seconds and was the third serious tremor to rock Wellington in less than a month.
The city center was closed after a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck on July 21, blowing out windows, throwing goods from store shelves and sending people running from buildings. The nation of 4.4 million people sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of volcanic and quake activity that circles the Pacific Ocean.
Felt in Auckland
“We even felt it in Auckland and we’re a fair old distance away,” said James Lee, head of institutional equities at First NZ Capital Ltd., a brokerage and wealth-management firm based about 630 kilometers from Wellington. “The guys in Wellington said there’s no obvious damage.”
The NZX 50 Index pared its loss to close down 0.4 percent when it reopened after closing for an hour following the quake. The New Zealand dollar fell to as low as 80.54 U.S. cents from 81 cents beforehand and was at 80.68 cents at 6:30 p.m. local time.
“While there a number of incidents involving broken glass in the city, there are no reports of any casualties so far,” New Zealand police said in a statement. “A number of people have been freed from lifts in the CBD which stopped when the quake struck.”
Statistics New Zealand sent staff home after the quake, which burst an air-conditioning pipe in the building and caused some water damage, spokesman Colin Marshall said by phone. Engineers will assess the building later today, he said.
Wellington train services have been suspended and State Highway 1, south of Blenheim in the South Island, is now closed as a result of slips on the road, police said. There were reports of some damage to buildings in and around the Seddon area, close to the quake’s epicenter.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat of a “destructive widespread tsunami,” based on historical data.
A magnitude 6.3 quake in February 2011 in the South Island city of Christchurch killed 185 people, the nation’s deadliest in eight decades.
–Editors: Edward Johnson, John McCluskey