5.8-magnitude quake hits New Zealand city of Christchurch: USGS

Dust and debris rising above houses after a cliff collapsed in the aftermath of the earthquake.
Dust and debris rising above houses after a cliff collapsed in the aftermath of the earthquake. PHOTO: REUTERS
A 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Feb 14, 2016.
A 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Feb 14, 2016.PHOTO: USGS

WELLINGTON (AFP/REUTERS) - A 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Sunday, seismologists said, sending goods flying off shelves.

GeoNet Science, the official New Zealand earthquake monitoring service, warned of aftershocks following the “severe intensity” quake. 

Sirens could be heard going off around the South Island city and at least one building was evacuated, according to media reports.

People posted pictures on social media of a cliff face crumbling into the sea, however emergency services said there were no immediate reports of any structural damage to buildings.  

The Christchurch City Council said cliffs collapsed in several places along the surrounding coast, spreading large clouds of billowing dust across the sea and hills.

“Obviously with a 5.7-magnitude earthquake so close to the eastern coast of Christchurch its certainly been a big shock for the city, a set back in terms of people’s confidence and feeling of security,” said Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel.

“Our city is stronger than it was five years ago. There are going to be a lot of people out there feeling very vulnerable.”

Ms Jenny Krex, the manager of a coffee shop in the seaside suburb of Sumner, told the New Zealand Herald that items broke in her shop.

 “Everyone got a big fright, we had everyone running out,” she said.  “I made sure everyone was okay, it was quite a big shock. It’s crazy out here at the moment.”

The quake struck a week before the fifth anniversary of a deadly 6.3 tremor in Christchurch, which killed 185 in one of New Zealand's deadliest disasters.

The latest quake was measured at 5.8 by the US Geological Survey at a shallow depth of about 8km and centred 17km west of the city.

“This quake is too small to have caused a tsunami,” GeoNet spokesman Caroline Little said but added with such tremors “people and animals are alarmed, and many run outside. Walking steadily is difficult... objects fall from walls and shelves.”

New Zealand is on the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, which form part of the so-called "Ring of Fire", and experiences up to 15,000 tremors a year.