A severe earthquake near Seddon this afternoon has cut power to hundreds of homes, damaged countless buildings including at least two homes, and triggered slips that have closed a portion of State Highway 1.
The magnitude-6.6 shake (earlier reported as mag-6.2), which hit at 2.31pm, was just 8 kilometres deep and was felt strongly in Wellington and as far away as Christchurch and Auckland.
Strong aftershocks have continued to pound the region, fraying nerves and causing further damage.
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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."
While their timber home escaped with minor damage, his aunt's 120-year old cob house was "screwed", he said.
"The chimney has fallen down, and the house has moved right off its foundations, the whole house has cracked in two."
His aunt, Nicola Kerslake, was not home at the time.
STATE HIGHWAY CLOSED
SH1 between Blenheim and Seddon is closed with large cracks reported in bridges near the Weld Pass.
Police have advised motorists to take extreme care on the roads, particularly around bridges and overpasses that may have moved.
Marlborough Express reporter Helen Hill was driving north from Kaikoura to Marlborough when the earthquake struck.
"It was 3.10pm and I had just slowed to 80kmh coming into Ward from the south when the car wobbled from side to side as if it was being pulled by four pieces of elastic - one on each corner.
"I wondered if I had a flat tyre. Then I noticed two or three cars coming towards me driving very slowly and the whole scene felt quite eerie.
"On the northern side of Ward I saw a lot of rock and mud slides. Some were so big the road was down to one lane.
"I crunched on to a small bridge and realised that what looked like a width of black seal where the bridge met the road was actually a gap in the carriageway.
"The car was also bumping over raised sections of seal where what I now know to have been a series of earthquakes had played havoc with the landscape.
"About 1km south of the saltworks at Grassmere, at Clifford Bay, I came across a policeman from Blenheim directing traffic through another large landslip. He was hurrying them along, saying the road was going to be closed and I should move on quickly to Blenheim for the same reason.
"I stopped to take a photo of a buckled street light at Tetley Brook Rd corner and while I was sitting in the car I felt a strong rolling motion that seemed to go on for more than a minute.
"There were numerous cracks in the road, vertical and horizontal, and driving along the aftershocks continued to shake the car.
"Further on there was a huge crack in the road on the south slope of the Lion's Back hill, about 8 metres long and maybe up to 10cm wide."
Hill said at Seddon, police were warning people not to drive south.
MARLBOROUGH BUILDINGS CORDONED, WINDOWS SMASHED
Blenheim police have cordoned off the Forum building in Market St and sent all shop owners and staff home because of two large cracks that appeared on the flyover between Paper Plus and the National Party electorate office.
Most Blenheim businesses were closing their doors for the day.
Dolce Cafe owner Sue McElhinney, whose business is on the first floor of the Forum, was taking a plate of food 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 hit hardest, with bottles of alcohol and glasses raining to the floor.
Seddon School was five minutes into an assembly when the quake hit.
Acting principal Nick Raynor said the pupils responded well.
"The kids did everything perfectly. There are no tables or chairs, but they got down into the turtle," he said.
"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 and we will keep them safe until you arrive."
The rugby rooms have been damaged, with internal beams falling through the ceilings.
The windows of the Cosy Corner cafe were blown out.
The sister of cafe owner Gillian Bruning was sitting outside a cafe when the quake hit, and she saw windows break.
"It was horrific. We had two Australian tourists in there when it hit and I had to run in and get them out," she said.
"We're gonna have to get in and get the tills our and then board it up somehow."
Blenheim Drycleaning and Laundry manager Stephanie Island said she ran outside screaming when the first quake hit.
"You can hear sirens outside. It's freaky. Car horns are honking. There are lots of people gathered outside," she said.
She said aftershocks "just keep coming".
Island's Auckland-based boss had rang and told them all to go home for the day, so they were packing up to leave.
Thousands of bottles of liquor ended up on the floor of Super Liquor Blenheim when the big one hit.
Shop attendant Morris said he was trying to tidy up the store and keep the doors open.
"Terrible, absolutely terrible," he said.
Early reports of a collapsed house in Seddon proved to be incorrect.
CIVIL DEFENCE WELFARE CENTRE
A Marlborough Civil Defence spokesman said a welfare base had been set up at Seddon School and preparations were under way to assist people who cannot return to their houses tonight. Residents can go there if they are unsure what to do.
All houses within the urban Seddon area have been checked and although there are reports of damage to roofs, chimneys and windows, there are no reports of injury.
Police personnel are moving through the area, checking the roads.
SH1 has been closed, at Blenheim and at Kaikoura. Redwood Pass Road is open.
Roads are being checked. State Highway 1 should be open shortly through to Needles Bridge. There are reports of serious damage to some bridges. At this stage, emergency vehicles are being allowed through the Weld Pass but the road is closed to the public.
A Civil Defence team from Blenheim is going through to Seddon and the Rural Fire Force has turned out. There has been one report of a grass fire after power lines came down in the Redwood Pass area.
Chimneys are down in Blenheim and the police are checking buildings in the CBD. Some supermarkets are closed because of the debris. Power is still out in some areas around Blenheim. Seddon and South of Seddon.
Full power has been restored to Wairau Hospital in Blenheim.
The Marlborough Airport is open but flights are delayed. The port infrastructure at Picton is being checked.
The Blind River and Wheelers Hill reservoirs have emptied so residents in the salt works, Marfells Beach, Grassmere, Blind River areas should conserve water and not rely on the Awatere water supply until further notice.
ADVICE AND HELPLINES
Anyone whose home has been damaged should contact EQC (0800 326 243). If your home is deemed to be a risk to life or unhealthy, for example contaminated with raw sewage, then contact council on 03 5207400.
If you require emergency services please dial 111. For less urgent medical concerns call health line 0800 611 116 or your local GP.
Marlborough residents are asked to conserve water and flush toilets sparingly and to listen to local radio stations for weather forecasts and updated warnings.
Updates from Civil Defence are available on its website.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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