Marlborough has been rocked by a magnitude 6.6 earthquake this afternoon, and aftershocks are continuing.
Marlborough Roads general manager Frank Porter said State Highway 1 was closed from the Riverlands truckstop, north of Blenheim, to south of Ure Bridge, just north of Kekerengu.
Road contractors were checking cracks and debris on the road at Lions Back south of Seddon, and were also examining damage to Needles Bridge, north of Ward.
The road is open to emergency vehicles only.
Train services have been halted.
There have been initial reports of severe building damage in the Seddon area and parts of Marlborough.
‘‘The great sadness is the knowledge that the rebuild, or repairs, will take a long time so people there and probably in Ward will need a lot of support in terms of food, warmth for homes and belief that their town can be lived in for the future.
"Marlborough civil defence officials said a welfare base had been set up at Seddon School, and preparations were being made for those who did not want to return home to stay overnight.
Twenty eight people have registered to stay at the welfare centre at Seddon School tonight.
Five Blenheim Red Cross volunteers have were providing hot drinks, food and water as well as a place to sleep for the residents.
Volunteer Ray Waters said more volunteers were on their way from Christchurch.
They expected most people there to stay over night and were prepared for more people if they arrived.
Blind River Loop Bridge, southeast of Seddon, has slumped at both ends, but is still usable. The Blind River and Wheelers Hill reservoirs have been emptied.
Residents in Lake Grassmere, Marfells Beach and the Blind River areas have been advised to conserve water and not rely on the Awatere water supply until further notice.
Marlborough Boys' College student Bejon Haswell, 17, was outside his Seddon home when the quake hit. It was so strong, he had difficulty walking, he said.
"I was walking back towards the house, and could barely walk, my legs were getting all crossed over like a catwalk model."
Bejon's aunt Laura Jean Kerslake had a lucky escape as the doorway she was standing under started to collapse, and then a chimney came down in front of her as she ran outside.
She was the only one in the house at the time and was in bed having a nap when the quake hit.
She was getting used to earthquakes now and when the shaking started had thought she would see how the quake would turn out.
"Then all of a sudden, before I even had time to think about it, it was just unbelievable really.," she told Radio NZ.
"The whole house, I could just see the walls cracking basically in front of me, stood in the doorway and half of the doorway was collapsing so then went into the kitchen and then ran outside, and then the chimney ... came down right in front of me."
Another chimneys at the other end of her 120-year-old home had also come down.
"All inside is basically a write-off," she said.
She was "very lucky" not to have been hurt.
The back of the house was made of wood and had held together well, so the family might sleep there tonight, or stay with other relatives in the area
Mark Morgan of Seymour St in Seddon and his family will not be going back into their house tonight.
"Our house is buggered, big cracks in the wall and the chimney is down, and two big windows smashed.
"We just packed up what we needed. Don't know where we're gonna go, we might just go camp somewhere, I've got a brother in town though, we're just gonna cruise," he said.
He said he had expected more after shocks. "It's quite calm."
Gillian Bruning was sitting outside Cosy Corner Cafe in Seddon when the quake hit and the windows completely smashed out.
"It was horrific, we had two Australian tourists in there when it hit and I had to run in and get them out.
"We're gonna have to get in and get the tills out and then board it up some how."
The Awatere rugby rooms were unusable, Civil Defence operations manager Chris Hayles said.
"Some internal beams have dropped through the ceilings," he said.
"We'll be using the school hall for now."
Meanwhile in Blenheim the welfare centre set up at Stadium 2000 is now closed.
Blenheim police had earllier cordoned off the Forum on Market St, and sent all shop owners and staff home after two large cracks appeared on the flyover between Paper Plus and the National Party electorate office.
Dolce cafe owner Sue mcElhinney said Blenheim Police had called her and said the cordon surrounding the building had been lifted, and it
was safe to re-enter at 4.30pm. Engineers had checked the building, and told business owners the visible cracks in the overpass were
stress points and designed to move in earthquakes.
Dolce was closed for the evening but would be re-opening at 9am tomorrow, "business as usual," she said.
Sergeant Graham Single, of Blenheim, said officers were now moving through central Blenheim, checking for further evidence of damaged buildings, and ensuring people were safe.
Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman is at the Civil Defence Centre, meeting with civil defence volunteers, firefighters, and council staff.
Most Blenheim businesses have shut.
Staff at the three Countdown supermarkets in Blenheim this afternoon managed to keep customers calm as stock fell off shelves around them and then evacuated the buildings.
Countdown spokeswoman Kate Porter said the buildings had been checked through a company protocol, including structural checks, before the staff were allowed back in to clean up the mess.
Photographs taken at the Redwoodtown supermarket showed considerable damaged in the aisle.However, Ms Porter said the mess was cleared away and all three supermarkets reopened by 6pm.
The Fresh Choice supermarket at Picton was also open.However the Supervalue supermarket in Seddon remained closed.
Vineyard workers from Vanuatu gathered together in the Countdown Blenheim car park.
Jack Morris said while they had earthquakes in Vanuatu, this one was much scarier, and made them feel very far away from home
"When there is an earthquake all we can think about is our families, and that's why we are all together," he said.
Dolce Cafe owner Sue McElhinney, whose business on the first floor of the Forum, was taking a plate of food out to a customer when the quake hit.
''It was shaking everywhere, everyone dived under the tables straight away,'' she said.
The bar area had been worst hit with bottles of alcohol and glasses crashing to the floor
Businesses are closing their doors and sending staff home.
Marlborough Girls' College student Grace Bourke was getting her make-up done for the combined colleges' formal, at X'foliate in the centre of Blenheim when the quake hit.
''Everything was shaking, it wasn't too scary at the time, but I'm really freaking out and confused now.''
Vamp Hair Studio owner Martin Cole said they had been ''fully booked'' this afternoon doing hair and make-up for the school formal.
''The girls went running and their hand bags went flying,'' he said.
The combined colleges' ball has been cancelled.
The Blenheim Police station has closed and staff have been transferred to the Civil Defence Centre in Wither Rd. A reporter has joined them and will be sending through updates as they become available.
The Marlborough Civil Defence team and Marlborough District Council building team are on their way to Seddon.
There are reports of two empty houses, one in Seddon one in Ward, that have been seriously damaged.
Chimneys in houses in Seddon and Ward are down and an engineer is on the way to check on the Haldon Dam.
A Marlborough District council team is in Seddon checking if commercial buildings are safe and cordoning off any which aren't. The first building cordoned was St Andrews Church in Seddon.
It had not been decided whether this was a Civil Defence emergency so this was a public relations exercise, a spokesman said. Individuals were responsible for the safety of their own buildings.
Scrub fires had been sparked by fallen lines.
Volunteers' children were sheltering under tables in the station.
The children said they were in the Seddon School hall when the quake hit and everyone was screaming. Paige Jackson, 9, was lying on top of other children and a light fell on them.
Other pupils were in the hall and on the field as the ground kept shaking.
The Marlborough District Library has been evacuated. People quickly left the CBD, walking down the middle of the street to avoid buildings and power lines.
Power is out in many areas and phone networks is struggling to cope. People are advised to communicate by text message rather than phone calls.
Marlborough Airport remains open, although departures are running about 20 minutes behind schedule. The 3.50pm flight from Wellington was cancelled, but apart from that arrivals appeared to be running only minutes late.
Seddon School was five minutes into an assembly when the earthquake hit. Acting principal Nick Raynor said the pupils responded well.
"The kids did everything perfectly. There's no tables or chairs but they got down into the turtle.
"What worked brilliantly is I have every parent's number in my phone so we sent a group message saying we are all safe, no-one is going on the bus we will keep them safe until you arrive."
Wairau Hospital in Blenheim used generator power this afternoon but mains electricity has now been restored.
The staff and patients were shaken but there were no reports of major damage. There is a structural engineer on standby to check the hospital buildings as soon as possible.
The Emergency Department reported that at 3.30pm there had been two minor injuries treated as a result of the earthquake.
Staff in the second floor of the Arthur Wicks Building were evacuated and the basement is closed.
Sally Peter at Cape Campbell says she is too scared to return to her damaged house.
Stu Marfell, winemaker at Vavasour, says staff are all OK. There had been no major leakages of wine, he said.
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There was no tsunami generated, Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
Geonet seismologist Anna Kaiser said "very preliminary" data showed today's quake was a little further west than the 6.5 quake on July 21, but it was certainly another event in the Cook Strait sequence.
Typically with a 6.5 earthquake the aftershocks would be expected to be could be up to 1 magnitude lower.
"This is a slightly larger event ," she said.
A final magnitude reading for today's quake was needed before deciding whether it could be classed as an aftershock of the 6.5 quake. It was certainly related to the 6.5 quake.
"The 6.5 can alter the state of the stress in the surrounding area," Kaiser said.
"Because the stress has been altered you can get another event like this, although typically you would see just a normal aftershock sequence. This looks like it was slightly larger than what you would expect to get," she said.
"Certainly following an event like this you do expect a sequence of aftershocks." That could be expected to continue for the next day or two, with magnitude 5 quakes possible.
GeoNet would try to work out the probabilities of the aftershock sequence, as was done after the 6.5 shake. to try to provide more clarity.
The Marlborough Civil Defence update issued for Marlborough at 4pm says:
- Residents are advised to expect more aftershocks and to follow the drop, cover, hold procedures.
- Residents are advised to check their emergency management plans.
- Damage appears to be limited to property only at this stage.
- There are no reports of injury.
- SH1 is closed between Blenheim and Seddon. There are reports of large cracks in bridges near the Weld Pass.
- Motorists are asked to stay off the road in these areas.
- A Civil Defence team and building inspection team from the Marlborough District Council is on the way to Seddon.
- A welfare centre has been set up at Seddon School.
- There are reports that two houses in Seddon and in Ward - both empty - have been seriously damaged. Chimneys on houses at Seddon and Ward have come down.
- An engineer is on his way to Seddon to inspect the Haldon Dam.
- In Blenheim various buildings have been evacuated: including Stadium 2000, public library.
- Power has been cut from parts of Blenheim, in Seddon and in Ward.
- Please check the Marlborough District Council website marlborough.govt.nz for the latest information.
Damage to homes:
- If your home has been damaged contact EQC (0800 326 243).
- If your home is deemed to be a risk to life or unhealthy (eg; contaminated with raw sewage) then contact the council on 03 5207400.
- Marlborough District Council is utilising all its resources to assess the situation.
- Residents are advised to continue to listen to local radio stations for local weather forecasts and updates and to also take note of any warnings that are issues.
- Follow instructions of your local Civil Defence authorities.
- For national updates look up civildefence.govt.nz
- The Marlborough Express