At least two killed as powerful earthquake strikes New Zealand

Debris from buildings are seen on a sidewalk past a cordon line in Wellington early on Monday. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Debris from buildings are seen on a sidewalk past a cordon line in Wellington early on Monday. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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A powerful earthquake hit New Zealand’s South Island yesterday – with emergency services warning people along the coast to move to higher ground to avoid ­tsunami waves.

The magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck in a mostly rural area close to the city of Christchurch but appeared to be more strongly felt in the capital, Wellington, more than 120 miles away on the North Island.

The earthquake was ­followed by a number of strong aftershocks.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says at least two people were killed in the earthquake.

Police reported that it knocked out New Zealand’s emergency call number, 111, for about 10 minutes.

The quake – which struck at a shallow depth of three miles – knocked items from shelves and broke ­windows in ­Wellington.

Hundreds of tourists were forced onto the streets as hotels across the capital were evacuated.

There have been reports of serious damage in the town of Cheviot on the South Island’s east coast.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management reported that a tsunami wave struck at about 1.50 am on Monday morning and warned residents living in low-lying areas anywhere along the country’s east coast to move to higher ground.

The ministry had earlier sent out a message on ­Twitter saying there was no tsunami threat. But then it sent out another message – “situation has changed - tsunami is ­possible” – before reporting that a wave had hit.

A gauge at Kaikoura, 112 miles north of Christchurch, measured an 8ft wave but there were fears that waves of up to 16ft could hit the ­north-eastern tip of the South Island, and Banks Peninsula, just south of Christchurch.

However, there were no immediate reports of any major damage or injuries in Christchurch.

The emergency brought back memories of a ­magnitude-6.3 earthquake which hit the city in 2011, destroying much of the ­downtown area and killing 185 people in one of New Zealand’s worst disasters.

But yesterday’s quake was centred farther away from the one in 2011, which caused £14 billion of damage.

Christchurch resident ­Hannah Gin told how she had just sat down to watch a replay of this weekend’s All Blacks rugby match in Italy when her house started shaking.

Miss Gin, 24, said she sat calmly and waited, thinking the rumbling would stop in a few seconds. Instead, she said, a rolling sensation went on for at least three ­minutes, according to the clock on her phone.