Friday 9 December 2016

'The wardrobe doors were rattling, I couldn't understand it' - Irish woman describes New Zealand earthquake horror

* At least two people killed, tourist town cut off
* Helicopter teams heading to worst-hit area
* USGS says quake magnitude revised to 7.8
* Hundreds of aftershocks rattle nerves
* In 2011, a 6.3 quake killed 185 people in Christchurch

Charlotte Greenfield and Greg Stutchbury

Published 14/11/2016 | 06:37

Part of a landslide along Kaikoura Road about two hours north of Christchurch (AP Photo / Angela Morgan)
Part of a landslide along Kaikoura Road about two hours north of Christchurch (AP Photo / Angela Morgan)
Local residents Chris and Viv Young look at damage caused by an earthquake along State Highway One, south of the township of Blenheim on New Zealand's South Island, November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
A truck drives over fractures caused by an earthquake, along a road south of the New Zealand town of Ward on the South Island, November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Workers examine toppled shipping containers at the Australian Port of Brisbane, November 14, 2016 after a storm the previous day damaged infrastructure in the Queensland capital. AAP/Dan Peled/via REUTERS
A railway line is damaged by an earthquake, near Tirohanga stream south of Blenheim on the South Island of New Zealand, November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
A Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter delivers government officials and police to assess earthquake damage in Kaihoura on the upper east coast of New Zealand's South Island, November 14, 2016. Sgt Sam Shepherd/Courtesy of Royal New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS
Landslides block State Highway One near Kaikoura on the upper east coast of New Zealand's South Island following an earthquake, November 14, 2016. Sgt Sam Shepherd/Courtesy of Royal New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS

An Irish woman who lives in New Zealand described the moment a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake pummelled the south island early on Monday, killing at least two people, damaging roads and buildings and setting off hundreds of strong aftershocks.

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Patrice Dougan, a former Belfast Telegraph reporter, told the newspaper how she was asleep in her 12th floor apartment when the building started to shake.

Emergency response teams flew by helicopter to the region at the epicentre of the tremor, which struck just after midnight some 91 km (57 miles) northeast of Christchurch in the South Island, amid reports of injuries and collapsed buildings.

Ms Dougan felt the tremors more than 600 miles from the epicentre.

Patrice Dougan
Patrice Dougan

"It was chaotic - Auckland doesn't get that many earthquakes," she said.

"I was in bed when it struck and at first I didn't know what it was.

"The wardrobe doors were rattling, I couldn't understand it.

"I jumped out of bed and realised it was an earthquake.

"We are on the 12th floor of an apartment block and we could feel it shaking. We didn't know what to do. There was nowhere we could go.

"After it stopped we went outside and could see a lot of people streaming out to the streets from our building.

The walls of a historic church are damaged in Waiau after a earthquake in Waiau, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.(Mike Scott/New Zealand Herald via AP)
The walls of a historic church are damaged in Waiau after a earthquake in Waiau, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.(Mike Scott/New Zealand Herald via AP)
A freight train is seen trapped by landslides following an earthquake in the area north of Kaikoura, New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald Pool Photo via AP)
Stranded tourists gather at a park in Kaikoura following an earthquake in New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald Pool Photo via AP)
A landslide blocks State Highway One and the main railway line north of Kaikoura following an earthquake in New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald/Pool via AP)
Mary Kimber stands in her kitchen following an earthquake in Waiau, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (Mike Scott/New Zealand Herald via AP)
The aerial photo shows cracks on a state highway near Kaikoura, New Zealand after a powerful earthquake Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (David Alexander/SNPA via AP)
Tourists take shelter in New Zealand's parliamentary complex in Wellington, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 after some hotels were evacuated following a powerful earthquake. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)
The picture shows earthquake damage on State Highway One and the main trunk railway line following an earthquake, north of Kaikoura, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (Mark Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP)
A landslide covers a section of state highway 1 near Kaikoura, New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, after a powerful earthquake.(David Alexander/SNPA via AP)
A road is cordoned off by the state highway 7a, near the Waiau Ferry Bridge after the 7.8 magnitude Hanmer Earthquake, near Hanmer Springs, in New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (David Alexander/SPNA via AP)
An excavator clears a landslide on a section of state highway 1 near Kaikoura, New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, after a powerful earthquake. (David Alexander/SNPA via AP)
Cracks in farmland around Conway near Kaikoura, New Zealand, are seen after a powerful earthquake, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (David Alexander/SNPA via AP)
An excavator clears a landslide on a section of state highway 1 near Kaikoura, New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 after a powerful earthquake.(David Alexander/SNPA via AP)
Dust created by a strong aftershock hangs above the Clarence River which was blocked following an earthquake north of Kaikoura, New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.(Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald/Pool via AP)
The aerial photo shows the damage to a state highway near Kaikoura, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 after a powerful earthquake. (David Alexander/SNPA via AP)
Earthquake damage on State Highway One and the main railway line north of Kaikoura following an earthquake in New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald/Pool via AP)
Damage is seen on a section of state highway 1 near Kaikoura, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 after a powerful earthquake. (David Alexander/SNPA via AP)
A state highway near Kaikoura, New Zealand is damaged after a powerful earthquake Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (David Alexander/SNPA via AP)
The walls of a historic church are damaged in Waiau after a earthquake in Waiau, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (Mike Scott/New Zealand Herald via AP)
Railway tracks of the main trunk railway line are displaced by a massive landslide that also blocks State Highway One following an earthquake on the coastline, north of Kaikoura, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (Mark Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP)
A lake caused by an earthquake slip forms on the Conway River near Kaikoura, New Zealand after a powerful earthquake Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (David Alexander/SNPA via AP)
In this image made from video, three cows are stranded on an island of grass in a paddock that had been ripped apart following an earthquake near Kaikoura, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (Newshub via AP)

"We knew from checking online that it was a massive earthquake.

"Authorities say there were around 100 aftershocks all over the country.

People evacuated from the Quest On the Terrace Hotel gather outside the hotel. Photo: Ross Setford/SNPA via AP
People evacuated from the Quest On the Terrace Hotel gather outside the hotel. Photo: Ross Setford/SNPA via AP

"It's been a long, sleepless night for many of us.

"After it happened I sent a message to my sister saying that I was OK. My family were shocked, but they are relieved I'm fine," she continued.

People evacuated from buildings along Dixon Street check their mobile phones while sitting on a bench in Wellington after a 6.6 earthquake based around Cheviot in the South island shock the capital, New Zealand. Photo: Ross Setford/SNPA via AP
People evacuated from buildings along Dixon Street check their mobile phones while sitting on a bench in Wellington after a 6.6 earthquake based around Cheviot in the South island shock the capital, New Zealand. Photo: Ross Setford/SNPA via AP

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key described landslips in the area of Kaikoura as "just horrendous".

"It's just utter devastation, I just don't know ... that's months of work," New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee after flying over the coastal town, according to Brownlee's Twitter account.

In a statement seen by Reuters, Key said of the likely damage bill: "You've got to believe it's in the billions of dollars to resolve."

Powerlines and telecommunications were down, with huge cracks in roads, land slips and other damage to infrastructure making it hard to reach the worst-affected areas.

A tsunami warning that led to mass evacuations after the original quake was downgraded after large swells hit New Zealand's capital Wellington, in the North Island, and Christchurch.

Wellington was a virtual ghost town with workers ordered to stay away while the city council assessed the risk to buildings, several of which were damaged by the tremor. Severe weather with 140 km per hour (85 mph), gale-force winds was forecast for the area.

Hundreds of aftershocks, the strongest a 6.2 quake at about 1.45 p.m. local time (0045 GMT), rattled the South Pacific country, fraying nerves in an area where memories of a deadly 2011 quake are still fresh.

Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand's ruggedly beautiful South Island, is still recovering from the 6.3 quake in 2011 that killed 185 people.

New Zealand's Civil Defence declared a state of emergency for the Kaikoura region, centred on a tourist town about 150 km (90 miles) northeast of Christchurch, soon after Monday's large aftershock.

Kaikoura, a popular spot for whale watching, appeared to have borne the brunt of the quake.

"Our immediate priority is ensuring delivery of clean water, food and other essentials to the residents of Kaikoura and the estimated 1,000 tourists in the town," Brownlee said.

The Navy's multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury was heading to the area, he said.

Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) said a 20-person rescue team and two sniffer dogs had arrived in the town. A second team was on standby in Christchurch, USAR said in a statement.

Hours after the quake, officials said a slip dam caused by the quakes that had blocked the Clarence River north of the town had breached, sending a wall of water downstream.

"Residents are urgently advised to move to higher ground immediately," RNZ quoted a statement from the Marlborough District Council as saying. A group of missing kayakers was later reported safe.

New Zealand's Geonet measured Monday's first quake at magnitude 7.5, while the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 7.8. The quakes and aftershocks rattled buildings and woke residents across the country, hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre.

Government research unit GNS Science later said the overnight quake appeared to have been two simultaneous quakes which together lasted more than two minutes.

New Zealand lies in the seismically active "Ring of Fire", a 40,000 km arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that partly encircles the Pacific Ocean. Around 90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur within this region.

Stock exchange operator NZX Ltd said markets were trading, although many offices in the capital were closed. The New Zealand dollar initially fell to a one-month low before mostly recovering.

Fonterra, the world's biggest dairy exporter, said some its farms were without power and would likely have to dump milk.

Key postponed a trip to Argentina, where he had planned to hold a series of trade meetings ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in Peru this week, as he met disaster officials.

At least one of those killed was found in a house in Kaikoura that "collapsed like a stack of cards", Kaikoura Hospital's Dr Christopher Henry told Fairfax media. Two other people were pulled alive from the same building.

New Zealand media reported one of the pilots taking rescuers to the area was Richie McCaw, the recently retired captain of New Zealand's world champion All Blacks rugby team.

"At one point, the railway was way out over the sea - it had been pushed out by (land) slips. It would not have been a nice place to be at midnight last night," McCaw told the New Zealand Herald after helping fly the USAR team to Kaikoura.

Shortly after the quake, residents heeding tsunami warnings in Wellington caused gridlock on the roads to Mount Victoria, a hill with a lookout over the low-lying coastal city.

Around 100 people, including tourists and children sleeping on floors and benches, camped out overnight in the distinctive parliament building known as the "Beehive".

Reuters

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