20 Jan 2014

Strong quake shakes lower North Island

10:51 pm on 20 January 2014

A strong 6.2 earthquake has damaged houses, caused power cuts and minor rock falls in the lower North Island on Monday. An apartment building in Masterton had to be evacuated due to safety concerns.

The low, rolling 6.2-magnitude tremor struck at 3.52pm and was centred 15km east of Eketahuna in the Tararua District. Dozens of aftershocks have been felt, measuring between 4.3 and 2.1.

The quake made a mess at this Masterton home.

The quake made a mess at this Masterton home. Photo: @RDiva / Twitter

GNS duty seismologist Caroline Little said the main quake was felt as far south as Invercargill, as far north as Auckland, and was shallower than first thought at 33km deep. She told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme that aftershocks are likely to continue.

Damage is being assessed in the region, with reports of falling chimneys, broken windows and some plumbing affected. People in the region said objects fell off shelves in their homes and in Wairarapa eyewitnesses described boulders crashing down from Castle Rock at Castlepoint.

Nerridy Kerrison lives on a farm just outside Eketahuna and says she and her children were frightened as the house shook really hard. "Never felt one like that before. They didn't know what to do - so I just got them to me and we were just in the doorway - even the dogs came running to us. I've got horses in the paddock and they were just going nuts."

Diane Smith was outside her Eketahuna home and says she had to hold onto the ground because it was rocking so violently. "My bookcase was over, a lot of stuff in my china cabinet's fallen over and there's stuff broken."

Sarah Henderson, who was on Castlepoint beach with friends and family, says they huddled together by their car and watched the rocks fall. "I started yelling to get away because I just didn't really have a sense of how far they were from us."

Radio New Zealand journalist Caitlin Cherry was also at the beach when the quake struck suddenly and violently. "The moment the shaking got really bad, we looked up at Castle Rock and ... part of the hill broke off and a boulder the size of a caravan went tumbling down and the rumble was intense. Luckily it didn't hit the beach, it sort of hit rocks before it landed anywhere near us. Pretty much one of the most terrifying experiences of my life."

Three taken to hospital

Three people were taken to hospital in Palmerston North after a chemical spill caused by the earthquake. Fire, police and ambulance attended at a house in the suburb of Awapuni after the property's owner went to check on agricultural chemicals which had fallen and mixed together. The owner was reported to have stinging eyes and trouble breathing, while two others had minor injuries.

Fifteen people were evacuated from the Daniels Building, Masterton.

Fifteen people were evacuated from the Daniels Building, Masterton. Photo: RNZ

Masterton building evacuated

A three-storey apartment block in Masterton was deemed too dangerous for tenants to stay in on Monday night after quake damage was found in the interior of the Daniels Building on Queen Street.

Wairarapa Civil Defence controller Kevin Tunnell said some of the 15 tenants have been put in temporary accommodation for the night. The building would be inspected again on Tuesday.

Mr Tunnell said there are reports of damage to two other Masterton buildings, and of two houses in Mauriceville, north of the town, one of which had lost its roof.

Stuart Davies from Civil Defence in Palmerston North said chimneys and water cylinders have been broken and a more detailed check of buildings would be carried out on Tuesday.

The Warehouse said its stores in Paraparaumu, Masterton and Dannevirke would be closed until inspected by engineers.


KiwiRail said it is using buses as replacements for all rail services in the Wellington region on Monday night but expects timetables to be back to normal by Tuesday morning.

At Wellington Airport, a giant eagle sculpture came down.

At Wellington Airport, a giant eagle sculpture came down. Photo: @KrisLeysen1 / Twitter

The New Zealand Transport Agency said engineers are assessing highways in the lower North Island, but there have only been reports of minor rock fall in the Manawatu Gorge.

However, some local roads have been damaged, including the Pahiatua to Pongaroa highway, which is closed until further notice due to slips. There is access to Pongaroa through Weber Road and route 52.

Authorities have checked the runway at Wellington Airport and no flights were cancelled.

Meanwhile, engineers will be ensuring that the airport's sculptures are safely installed after one detached during the earthquake. No one was injured. A second eagle sculpture was being removed and an investigation will take place. The airport said the Gollum sculpture would also be inspected.

Power restored

Lines company Powerco said electricity has been restored to most of its 5500 customers affected in and around Eketahuna, Alfredton, Palmerston North, Feilding and as far north as Manaia in Taranaki. Crews would work overnight to reconnect about 100 customers.