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Severe aftershock sparks new evacuation from NZ quake zone

A magnitude-5.1 aftershock hammered New Zealand's earthquake-hit city of Christchurch this morning, freshly damaging buildings, sparking evacuations and prompting the extension of a state of emergency for another week.

The latest quake, just 6.4km below the surface and centred 10km southeast of the city, was felt by residents as the strongest aftershock in Christchurch since Saturday's 7.1-magnitude earthquake wrecked hundreds of buildings.

Nobody was reported injured by the latest shock.

"My gut is just churning up here. When will this thing end? It is like living in a maelstrom," Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said as workers streamed from the city's emergency headquarters.

"We have got staff in tears, we have got fire engines going through the middle of the city, power is out and a lot of people are very, very churned up by that," he told the NewstalkZB radio station.

"It was a devastatingly, vicious, sharp blow to the city."

Initial reports from geological agency GNS Science that the aftershock was magnitude-6.1 were quickly corrected downward.


Officials closed the city's main road tunnel for inspection due to concerns that the aftershock may have caused cracking to the tunnel and retaining walls leading to it, New Zealand Transport Agency local spokesman Peter Connors said.

The tunnel, built in the 1960s, links Christchurch to the port of Lyttelton.

More than 140 aftershocks have rattled the region since Saturday, and earthquake experts warned yesterday that another strong tremor might hammer the region in coming days.

The weekend's powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake smashed buildings and homes, wrecked roads and disrupted the central city.

Nobody was killed and only two people were seriously injured -- which authorities attributed to good building codes and the quake's early morning timing.

"It was as strong as the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, which caused widespread devastation and is estimated to have killed approximately 230,000 people," Prime Minister John Key said.

"Although no one lost their life ... families have been traumatised and lost their valued possessions."

Today, Key travelled north of the city to inspect houses in the town of Kaiapoi that had been torn from their foundations by the quake.


"It shows you how well the building code works in New Zealand as they had been picked up, ripped apart and yet the structure has survived enough that people could escape," Key said after looking through one wrecked house.

Quake experts said aftershocks are likely to continue for several weeks -- and the worst of them may be yet to come.

"It is still possible that we'll have a magnitude-6 in the next week, and people ought to be aware of that, particularly if they are around structures which are already damaged," said Ken Gledhill, a monitor at GNS Science.