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New Zealand Declares State Of Emergency After Massive Quake

Machines work on moving rubble blocking Victoria Street in Christchurch after a powerful earthquake.
Authorities in New Zealand have declared a state of emergency after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, the country's second-biggest city.

The powerful quake ripped up roads, damaged buildings, and brought down power lines.

"The whole building felt as if it was actually going to fall over sideways," one woman said. "It was shaking back and forward as if it had been hit by something."

No casualties were reported, although the earthquake had the same magnitude as the one that devastated Haiti in January, killing an estimated 230,000 people.

Two men so far have been hospitalized with severe injuries, one hit by a falling chimney and the other cut by glass.

The low levels of injury reflect the strict building codes in New Zealand, where more than 14,000 earthquakes are recorded every year.

Nonetheless, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said it was "extraordinarily lucky" no one was killed, "but in terms of the scale of the damage, I think it is absolutely immense. We are really just beginning to come to terms with the scale of what we have got in front of us at the moment."

Massive Damage

Many houses in the city of around 350,000 had broken windows, cracked walls, and toppled chimneys. A number of streets bore gaping cracks, and some were flooded.

Power was out over a large area of the city and its surrounding region, but was being progressively restored, and authorities prepared to send in drinking water.

"We are making sure, as I have said before, that people are given appropriate water supply, because that is going to be an issue over the next 24 hours," Minister for Civil Defense John Carter said.

"We are looking to have alternative sources of supply; we will be giving advice on where those distribution points are."

Prime Minister John Key, who flew to Christchurch to inspect the damage, said his government would work closely with local authorities to get the city "back on its feet."

He described the destruction as "incredibly frightening" and said initial assessments suggested the clean-up operation would cost at least 2 billion New Zealand dollars ($1.4 billion).

The quake was among the 10 strongest ever recorded in New Zealand, which sits between the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates.

The last fatal quake was in 1968, when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake killed three people on the South Island's west coast.

with agency reports