Three in hospital, 5600 lose power

JONO GALUSKA, KELSEY FLETCHER AND CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 10:40 21/01/2014
Fairfax NZ

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake hits the Wairarapa Coast and Manawatu and is felt at both ends of the country.

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Palmerston North resident Jason Holding talks about the earthquake and coming outside to see the front fence had fallen down.

Earthquake aftermath at Eketahuna

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SEND HELP: A young neighbour watches on from near the chemical spill.

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More than 600 claims of damage have been reported to the Earthquake Commission following yesterday's severe 6.2 quake.

Rockfall-prone roads, "screaming" bridges and earthquake-prone buildings are undergoing checks today as the full cost for the wider Manawatu region becomes clearer.

The earthquake struck just before 4pm and was centred 15 kilometres east of Eketahuna at a depth of 33km.

It damaged houses, threw objects off shelves, cut power to thousands of people, caused large cliff slips and forced hundreds of distressed office workers out of their buildings and into the streets.

QUAKE CLAIMS START ROLLING IN

An Earthquake Commission spokeswoman said today they'd received more than 600 claims following yesterday's earthquake from throughout the lower North Island, including Manawatu, greater Wellintgon and Wairarapa.

Claims tended to spike and fall and they would be waiting to see how many came in before they made any decisions.

People have three months to make their claims, so there was no panic, she said.

THREE TAKEN TO HOSPITAL AFTER CHEMICAL SPILL

Three people were taken to hospital in Palmerston North after two drums holding chemicals fell and their contents mixed during the quake.

The spill on Ilford Pl in Awapuni involved materials used by gardening companies.

Manawatu assistant fire area commander Rodger Calder said the three were treated for lung and eye issues. There was no risk to residents in the street he said.

"There's no danger to the public or to the houses in the area," he said.

Access to the street was restricted this afternoon as firefighters and MidCentral officials worked at the scene.

Mr Calder said something was still "going on" in the garage where the spill occurred.

"We're just trying to find out what's going on, we're not getting the readings that we'd expected," he said.

Firefighters were seen entering the garage wearing respirators and a St John ambulance crew were on the scene as a precaution. There was no odour detectable outside the garage, Mr Calder said.

Residents of the house involved had been advised to keep their doors and windows closed.

Mr Calder said firefighters were yet to determine what chemicals had spilt but said there were fertilizers and other gardening chemicals in the garage.

One of the inhabitants of the house wrote on Facebook this morning that they were all out of hospital and OK.

Shayna Fah wrote it was disappointing there had been speculation online that the spill was because of a P lab.

"Nice to know people are so willing to think the worst about people who have damage caused by the worst earthquake felt in PN in years. Thanks for the support from those who know."

There were no other reports of injuries.

FLOOD PROTECTION INFRASTRUCTURE CHECKED

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Horizons Regional Council spokeswoman Kate Ritani said engineers had checked the region's flood protection infrastructure and found no damage from the earthquake.

Power had been lost at several pump stations immediately after the earthquake but was quickly restored she said.

Rockfalls at several rivers following yesterday's quake were a timely reminder to swimmers to stay away from cliff faces when enjoying the region's rivers, Mrs Ritani said.

Council staff would be checking popular swimming spots to ensure warning signs were in place.

AFTERSHOCKS CONTINUE TO ROLL THROUGH

The magnitude of the quake was revised several times over the afternoon as nearly 30 weak to moderate aftershocks, mostly under magnitude 4, kept coming in Tararua.

Geonet reported dozens of aftershocks following the initial jolt with one of the largest, a 3.9 magnitude centered 15km east of Eketahuna, waking many Manawatu residents at about 12.40am today.

GNS duty seismologist Caroline Little said the quake was caused by the Pacific tectonic plate ''subducting'' under the Australian plate.

The quake could not be pinned on an individual faultline and were quite different from two historic quakes in the area that caused serious damage.

A magnitude 8.2 quake on the Wairarapa Fault in 1855 remains the most violent in New Zealand since European settlement.

A 10-metre tsunami struck Palliser Bay on the south Wairarapa coast.

The tsunami also flooded Porirua Harbour, and hit Titahi Bay and the Kapiti Coast.In Wellington, a four to five metre tsunami swept over the isthmus between Lyall Bay and Evans Bay.

In June, 1942, a 7.2 quake centered near Masterton shifted houses on their foundations and caused some roofs to collapse.

In Masterton, damage was widespread and only few buildings survived unscathed.

In Wellington, 100 city buildings were found to be seriously damaged, about 10,000 chimneys  toppled and 5000 homes were in need of extensive repairs.

Mrs Little said yesterday's quake was more similar to a 6.4 quake centered near Weber, Tararua in May, 1990.

That one caused no minor damage. It was expected the next seven days would see another quake - or up to five - of magnitude 5-5.9.

A much larger quake soon could not be ruled out but was ''unlikely'', she said.

SHOWROOM CEILING COLLAPSED

At Courtesy Ford on John F Kennedy Dr, "pretty much all" of the false ceiling in the showroom collapsed.

Car salesman Curtis Cavanagh was the only one in the store when the earthquake hit and said plaster and air conditioning pipes fell from the roof.

"I was in the middle of the showroom and saw the windows start to move like they were a soft metal of some sort.

"Then the roof start to come in so I ran for the doors. There's a lot of glass around so I was a bit worried."

A couple of new model Ford Ranger utes had been hit by the falling ceiling but they had nothing but superficial damage, Cavanagh said.

The showroom would be cleaned up this morning, he said.

POWER BACK ON FOR MOST

Electricity was cut to about 5600 properties in Tararua, Manawatu and Taranaki immediately after yesterday's quake.

Powerco acting network operations manager Dean Stevenson said about 1600 properties were without power at 6pm yesterday.

Powerco reported at 11.30am  that only about 120 of these were still without electricity.

Powerco Acting Network Operations Manager Dean Stevenson said customers in and around Eketahuna, Alfredton, Palmerston North, Fielding and as far north as Manaia in Taranaki had been affected.

Mr Stevenson said the damage was relatively minor and Powerco completed repairs to the high voltage network by 9pm last night.

However severe weather overnight had caused a number of small faults on the network affecting isolated customers around Manawatu and Taranaki.

Mr Stevenson said Powerco had been prioritising restoration to dairy farmers who had stressed cows which needed to be milked urgently to avoid ongoing animal health problems.

"There are currently around 120 properties spread across the affected area without power. We are working to get power back on to the properties one or two at a time as we are down to situations where a fuse supplying a single property requires replacement or the property has sustained damage to the customer's service line which needs to be repaired before we can safely reconnect supply."

Mr Stevenson said anyone without power should contact their electricity retailer.

ROADS TO BE CHECKED

NZ Transport Agency spokesman Ewart Barnsley said inspectors would return to the Manawatu Gorge road this week to check the stability of the cliffs.

Initial inspections to the state highway network in the region, including SH3 through the gorge, had shown no major damage to roading.

All highways were operating without delays, but road users were advised to remain cautious, he said.

Cliff slips had already been reported on the Rangitikei River near Mangaweka, along the Pohangina River and at Anzac Cliffs, Palmerston North, on the Manawatu River.

OUTAGES TO CELL SITES

Telecommunications company Vodafone reported outages in three cell sites, one of them in Feilding.

Palmerston North City Council spokesman Daniel O'Regan said any damage in the central business district of Palmerston North appeared to be superficial, but more thorough checks would be made today.

All council-owned roads were open in the Palmerston North area.

BRIDGE WAS 'SCREAMING' AS QUAKE HIT

Zaria Hemara said the Saddle Rd bridge over the Pohangina River was twisting and screaming as the earthquake hit. The bridge needed to be checked to make sure it was safe to drive over.

"It sounded like a dog dying, it was that bad.

"It was all just such a blur. The ground shook so hard out here that I was genuinely thinking the earth was going to open up and swallow us."

In Tararua, closer to the epicentre, large cracks forced the closure of the main road to the tiny town of Pongaroa.

Tararua District Council chief executive Blair King said monitoring and precautionary work was being done by the council.

"The main issue is around roading and bridging," he said. "We've shut Pahiatua-Pongaroa Rd, we've got contractors out looking at a number of the bridges which is just precautionary and there is power out which has also taken out phones and internet.

"We've come through very well."

The main road from Pahitua to Pongoroa is to remain closed this morning as maintenance crews work to repair severe earthquake damage.

King said there were ''a number'' of diggers at the site. 

Rockfalls were continuing, and the road would not be opened until it was safe.

''There's a good chance that it may be closed today,'' he said.

However, there was the possibility that it could be opened temporarily later this afternoon and then closed again overnight for repairs.

Despite the road damage, King said overall Tararua ''came through relatively well''.

A water leak and an evacuation were the only earthquake-related incidents that needed Dannevirke's volunteer fire brigade's attention.

''We had one call come in for a water leak,'' chief fire officer Peter Sinclair said this morning. However, he could not say the leak was definitely earthquake related.

The brigade was also called to Pahiatua to assist with the evacuation of staff at the Fonterra plant.

Fonterra operations manager Robert Spurway told RadioNZ this morning some cracks appeared in the building and the sprinkler system gave way.

Tararua Mayor Roly Ellis said he was aware of fire brigades attending a gas leak in Pahiatua following the earthquake.

"Two fire engines have gone out of Dannevirke to Woodville and Pahiatua and I believe one is a gas leak," he said. "I believe there has been some internal damage to some houses in Eketahuna, but nothing major that we know of at the moment."

However, Sinclair said the only incident attended in Pahiatua was the Fonterra evacuation.

''We were pretty quiet really,'' he said.

Thick black smoke hovering over Ashhurst in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake had nothing to do with the shake.

Ashhurst senior firefighter Dave Murray said "it was just a couple of people doing burnoffs".

"Everyone was thinking the worst and calling us but it wasn't related in any way."

The burnoffs caused a small fire in an area opposite the Ashhurst Domain, but this was put out easily, he said.

The town appeared to have got off relatively lightly in terms of damage, although the hot water cylinder in the fire station had busted a leak, Mr Murray said.

UNIVERSITY EVACUATED

At Massey University's Manawatu campus, staff and students evacuated buildings after the earthquake.

Checks of buildings found only minor damage.

The campus was sparsely populated because of the Wellington Anniversary holiday but staff at the Manawatu contact centre were working and evacuated the registry building, as did several postgraduate students in the science towers.

Assistant vice-chancellor of operations, international and university registrar Stuart Morriss said at this stage all campuses would be open as normal today.

AFTERSHOCKS CONTINUE

GNS Science seismologist Caroline Little said the quake was felt from Invercargill to Auckland.

"Because of its depth it would be less severe than last year's Cook Strait quake, which was shallower."

Ms Little said reports of stronger shaking mainly came from Wellington, Kapiti and Manawatu but that was likely because of the bigger population on the west coast.

It would take time to establish which fault triggered the quake.

Although the possibility of another severe jolt could not be ruled out, she said it was likely aftershocks would lessen in intensity.

- Manawatu Standard

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