New Zealand: 2 dead in 7.8 magnitude earthquake that triggered tsunami
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New Zealand: 2 dead in 7.8 magnitude earthquake that triggered tsunami

AT least two people were killed in the powerful earthquake that struck New Zealand, triggering three aftershocks and a tsunami early Monday morning.

The magnitude-7.8 quake struck just after midnight, 214 kilometers (132 miles) south of Wellington, the capital, where it collapsed a ferry loading ramp, broke windows and caused items to fall from shelves.

The centre of the quake was near the city of Christchurch, making fissures in roads and triggering landslides. It was at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles). Authorities said the powerful tremor had generated a 2.5 meter tsunami, with the first waves hitting the South Island.

The quake prompted the department of civil defense to warn people all along the country’s east coast to move to higher ground. It also forced hundreds of tourists onto the streets as hotels were evacuated.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key confirmed the deaths of the two people at a news conference Monday morning in Wellington, but did not provide any further details.

Due to the temblor, Key cancelled a trip to Argentina but said he still hopes to attend an APEC summit in Peru.

Acording the to the AFP, Key was scheduled fly out to Buenos Aires on Tuesday on an official visit but decided to postpone it until authorities could fully assess the damage.

“The situation is still unfolding and we don’t yet know the full extent of the damage,” Key said, confirming the two deaths.

“I believe it is better that I remain in New Zealand in the coming days to offer my assistance and support until we have a better understanding of the event’s full impact.”

During the news conference, Key said the tsunami warnings were being downgraded to coastal warnings.

Authorities said they were not yet declaring a national emergency, saying the regions are coping well but urged people who work in the center of the capital to stay home on Monday as inspections are being carried out on buildings.

Wellington city officials said some large buildings were showing signs of structural stress and that the quake would likely have caused damage to some buildings.

The city’s suburban rail network was shut while crews checked tracks, bridges and tunnels.

At press time, authorities were still assesing the full extent of the damage from the quake.

While there were no immediate reports of serious injuries in Wellington or Christchurch, the quake brought back memories of the magnitude-6.3 earthquake that struck Christchurch in 2011, destroying much of the downtown area and killing 185 people. That quake was one of New Zealand’s worst disasters, causing an estimated $25 billion in damage.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press