NZ Earthquake: 'Miracle' No One Killed

4:32pm UK, Saturday September 04, 2010

Damien Pearse and Huw Borland, Sky News Online

New Zealand's prime minister says it is "a miracle" that no-one was killed after an earthquake struck its second largest city, cracking roads and destroying buildings.  

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A state of emergency has been declared after a 7.0-magnitude quake cut off power and knocked residents off their feet.

Chimneys also crumbled and looters broke into damaged shops, though only two people were seriously injured.

Prime Minister John Key said it was "an absolute miracle" no one was killed. The powerful tremor hit 19 miles (30km) west of the city.

Rubble after earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand

Rubble after the earthquake in Christchurch

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency after receiving reports of widespread damage.

He said the "sharp, vicious earthquake has caused significant damage in parts of the city... with walls collapsed that have fallen into the streets".

Police cordoned off some streets due to rubble and 'quake damage.

400-new-zealand-earthquake

A building on fire after the quake struck west of the city

Police inspector Mike Coleman said: "There is considerable damage in the central city and we've also had reports of looting, just shop windows broken and easy picking of displays.

"It's very unsafe to be out and about."

The quake hit at 4.35am (4.35pm GMT) shaking, thousands of people awake, New Zealand's National Radio reported.

Damaged road

Damaged road (Pic: Sarah King)

Christchurch International Airport was closed after the tremor as a precaution, as experts prepared to check the runways and airport terminals, a spokesman said.

New Zealand sits above an area of the Earth's crust where two tectonic plates collide.

The country records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year - but only about 150 are felt by people. Fewer than 10 a year do any damage.

The magnitude was revised downwards from an initial estimate of 7.4, US geological survey said.

Building damaged by earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand

Damaged building in the southern city