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At least 2 dead in New Zealand earthquake; residents flee tsunami

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake, that was 23 km deep, struck at 12:00 am local time on Monday

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New Zealand Earthquake

AFP | PTI  |  Christchurch 

Glass and masonry litter the footpath in Wellington Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, after a major earthquake struck New Zealand's south Island
Glass and masonry litter the footpath in Wellington Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, after a major earthquake struck New Zealand's south Island

At least two people were killed and more fatalities were feared after a powerful 7.8 earthquake struck New Zealand on Monday, while residents in coastal areas fled following tsunami warnings.

As dawn broke there was scant information from many rural villages in the South Island, which were isolated by landslips and fractured telephone communications as strong aftershocks continued for several hours.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed two people had died and said "we cannot rule out" that number will rise, nearly seven hours after the main quake.

Police were trying to reach the scene of one fatality at a remote property 150 kilometres north of Christchurch while another person died in a historic homestead which collapsed at the nearby fishing village of Kaikoura.

"At this point we are unable to give precise details of what caused those fatalities," Key said, adding that communication problems made it difficult to get information.

Helicopters were taking officials workers to the worst-affected area, he said.

"As soon as we can get a much better assessment of the actual damage then we can work out the next steps."

Soon after the earthquake, tsunami warning sirens were activated in South Island coastal towns and along the east coast of the North Island, with police and emergency workers going door to door to evacuate seaside properties.

The ministry of civil defence, responsible for emergency management in New Zealand, initially warned of a "destructive tsunami" with waves of up to five metres (16 feet).

The first waves were measured around two metres and four hours later authorities downgraded the warning, but said risks remained.

The earthquake struck at 12:02 AM Monday (16:32 IST Sunday) and was 23 kilometres deep, the US Geological Survey said, putting the epicentre near the alpine tourist village of Hanmer and the rural township of Cheviot in North Canterbury, South Island.

It was one of the most powerful shakes to rock earthquake-prone New Zealand and ignited painful memories for residents in Christchurch which was devastated five years ago by a 6.3 tremor which killed 185 people.

"It was massive and really long," Tamsin Edensor, a mother of two in Christchurch, told AFP, describing the powerful quake as the biggest since the 2011 tremor which was one of New Zealand's deadliest disasters.

"We were asleep and woken to the house shaking, it kept going and going and felt like it was going to build up."

The main tremor was followed by a series of strong aftershocks and there were reports of damaged houses. Roads were cut and rail and ferry services were halted.

People took to social media to report damage with goods tipped from shelves and shattered glass littering streets.

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First Published: Mon, November 14 2016. 00:07 IST
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