Parts of New Zealand battered by an earthquake prepared for a storm Monday bearing heavy rain and high winds.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake registered 7.8 magnitude about 32 miles from Amberley on New Zealand’s south island shortly after midnight Monday and triggered a tsunami warning. Officials urged people to stay out of central Wellington for fear high winds would dislodge broken glass and other material from damaged buildings, NZTV reported.
A heavy rain watch was in effect with flooding possible into Tuesday, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research reported. The rain was expected to interfere with recovery efforts.
The quake, about 50 feet down, was followed by more than 100 aftershocks, some measuring as much as 6.5 magnitude, and left at least two people dead, the New Zealand Herald reported. Though the tsunami warning was lifted, people still are being advised to stay away from beaches and the shoreline.
Schools were ordered closed until damage could be assessed, throwing exam schedules into disarray.
“You felt off balance no matter what you tried to do or where you tried to escape,” said Chris Lynch, who lives on the top floor of an apartment complex in Christchurch. “I really thought it wasn’t going to end.”
Lynch said what made the quake particularly frightening was the rolling motion.
“It wasn’t the shaking just going up or down. It was … like you were the tennis ball in the juggler’s arm,” he said.
A New Brighton family who fled to safer ground returned to their home five hours later to find it had been looted, the Herald reported. Among the items taken was a $5,000 wireless microphone system designed for a daughter with muscular dystrophy.
The Wellington Dominion Post reported widespread damage and road closures as a result of the quake, which was felt strongly in Christchurch, Wellington and Marlborough, and as far away as Aukland. An interisland ferrywas stranded at sea off Picton, forcing passengers and crew to sleep onboard, and the Wellington ferry gangway was swept away.
People huddled in the streets in their bathrobes near Civil Square in Wellington, waiting for their buildings to be deemed safe. Large chunks of masonry fell from the Wellington City Council offices and smashed glass below.
"Really we were just all in bed asleep and then we started to hear noises outside, like cracks and stuff, then this huge earthquake happened and it shook and shook and shook," said Conan Hayes, 18, who had been inside a student housing building in Wellington.
"Books fell off our shelves, food out of the cupboard. The length of it all was really the most scariest part."