City workers are fleeing Wellington after a severe earthquake rocked central New Zealand this afternoon.
Geonet said the quake stuck at 2.31pm and measured 6.2, 10km south east of Seddon at a depth of 8km. Initial reports said the quake was 6.9.
Aftershocks continued to rattle the centre of the country, including a 5.8 at 3.52pm.
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There was no tsunami threat to New Zealand. Civil Defence said and civil defence headquarters had not been activated.
Workers were leaving their buildings and queues of traffic were forming out of the capital.
Wellington buildings have sustained minor damage including broken windows. Some people were trapped in lift shafts, Fire Service Region manager Brendan Nally said.
There were reports of damage to houses in Blenheim and landslides near Ward. However, he said the quake did not appear to have been "hugely damaging" despite its intensity. Roads leading to highways out of Wellington, including Jervois Quay and Boulcott St, were snarled with traffic delays.
THE CITY GROANED
On Wellington's waterfront, cranes swayed and the city seemed to groan.
Joggers stopped in their tracks and struggled to stand. Amanda Beeslaar, a visitor from Auckland, said the quake was ''terrifying''.
''It felt like a jet plane coming over and them it just started shaking. I thought the earth was going to open up.''
Sam Stanley was in the NZX building when the quake hit.
''I feel a bit queasy, it was swaying so much. I waited about ten seconds and got under my table, then we decided to get out.''
DAMAGE IN MARLBOROUGH
State Highway 1 between Blenheim and Kaikoura has been closed. The closure is from Weld Pass to just north of Kaikoura.
Police have received reports of damage to houses in the Seddon area, but to date there have been no reports of injuries.
They have advised motorists to take extreme care on the roads, particularly around bridges and overpasses which may have moved.
The windows of the Cosy Corner cafe were blown out.
Sister of cafe owner, Gillian Bruning was sitting outside when 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 our and then board it up some how."
People were leaving town, walking down the middle of the street to avoid buildings and power lines. Train services were halted.
A spokeswoman for St John's southern communications centre said ambulance crews had responded to a fall in Blenheim following the quake, but it was not known if it was related to the shake.
Staff were "not particularly busy" otherwise, but had been checking stations around the South Island. "Everyone's OK," she said.
Early reports of a collapsed house in Seddon proved to be incorrect.
A magnitude 5.7 aftershock centred 5km southeast of Seddon and 8km deep hit about six minutes later.
Another large aftershock, magnitude 5.6, struck at 2.45pm. It was centred 15km southeast of Seddon at a depth of 5km.
A quake closer to Wellington struck at 2.50pm. Geonet said the 4.8 magnitude quake was 15km south of the city at a depth of 5km.
At 3.52 a magnitude 5.8 quake struck.
Telecom said there was major congestion on phone lines of all major networks and urged users to text not call. Phone lines were being checked for damage.
New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) central region spokesman Anthony Frith said state highway networks were currently being checked and reports so far were that they remained in good condition.
However Wellington rail networks remained suspended until further notice, Frith said.Wellington motorists were being advised to be patient and to expect delays.
Reports were coming in of heavy traffic northbound from Wellington, Frith said.
''We have heard that it is starting to get quite congested it's probably yet to reach its peak so if people can delay their travel they should but obviously if you need to get home to check on loved ones that's absolutely understandable.''
Updates were being posted on NZTA's website and on social media. Wellington Airport has reopened after a runway inspection.
Wellington's City Gallery has been evacuated, pending a building inspection.
Trading on all markets on the New Zealand stock exchange has been halted.
Bringing a halt to trading was a rare occurrence, a NZ spokeswoman said, and hadn't needed to be done during other recent tremors in the area.
'GET OUT, GET OUT'
Shoppers ran from Karori Mall when one massive shake cut off the power, which has since been restored.
''I was in the Salvation Army store and I didn't realise how big it was at first,'' one teenaged shopper told Fairfax Media.
"No one really realised it was happening and then there was one really big shake and the power went off,'' Tess Norquay said.
''One woman yelled an urgent 'get out, get out'.''
Shoppers were milling around in the street, and once they calmed down they drove home, she said.
When she got home books had fallen from the shelves. There were hundreds of ''felt it'' reports on the Geonet website, including reports as far south as Dunedin and as far north as Auckland.
Michael Brennan of Seatoun, Wellington, was sitting watch the TV when the quake struck.
"I looked out the window and Bella [the cat] came running through the cat door. The house just started swaying and shaking. I thought 'Is this going to be it or what?'. Then it just tapered off. I think it must have nearly split the country in half."
Karori resident John Nimmo, 81, said that he thought the quake had been worse than the July 21 quake, which measured 6.5.
"It shook the hell out of this house,'' he said. "I felt it was far worse than the previous big shake, but I was upstairs when it struck."
His daughter-in-law Anne-Marie, who called to see if he was ok, had been working at a pharmacy in the mall.
It had cleared out the customers and closed, as had the two supermarkets in the mall. Karori Pool had closed initially, but it had reopened about half an hour after the shake.
Children at Karori Normal School had dived under their desks, and some were crying Year 5 student Ben Moore told Fairfax Media.
"It was really scary, I ran under the desk,'' Ben Moore said.
"Kids were upset, there were a few kids crying.''
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 ould be expected to 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 Seddon area has been the centre of seismic activity since the day before a magnitude 6.5 quake struck on July 21.
GNS Science seismologist Stephen Bannister said that quake had released energy equivalent to 100 nuclear bombs of the size released on Hiroshima.
"If it had been under the city we would have been looking at equal damage or close to what happened in Christchurch."
There have been hundreds aftershocks since then.
They continued to rumble in Seddon last night, with a magnitude 4.4 earthquake shaking the area at 7pm.
It was quickly followed by a magnitude 2.4 and magnitude 3 in the same spot.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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