New Zealand issues tsunami warning after powerful earthquake

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A major earthquake rocked New Zealand just after midnight, severely shaking most of the country and prompting a tsunami warning.

The magnitude 6.6 quake struck at 12:02 a.m. Monday and was centered near Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island, seismic monitoring website GeoNet reported. It jolted capital city Wellington, where sirens have been sounding since, but there are no reports so far of damage or injury.

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management issued a tsunami warning for all southern coastal areas of New Zealand. The quake, initially reported as magnitude 7.6, was followed by several aftershocks, including a magnitude 5.6, GeoNet said. Radio New Zealand reported the quake was felt across most of New Zealand.

“This was a very big event and we’ve seen several big aftershocks,” John Townend, an associate professor of seismology at Victoria University in Wellington, told Radio New Zealand. “With big earthquakes you trigger aftershocks nearby, and can also trigger other earthquakes within several hundred kilometers or even further afield.”

New Zealand is on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of volcanic and quake activity that rings the Pacific Ocean. Christchurch is still recovering from a 2011 quake that killed 185 people and destroyed the central city.

The quake, initially reported as magnitude 7.6, was followed by several aftershocks, including tremors of magnitudes 6.1 and 5.6, GeoNet said.

The Ministry of Civil Defence said people near the eastern coast of the South Island should immediately move to high ground or as far inland as possible. Do not go to the shore to watch for a tsunami, and stay away from at-risk areas until an all-clear is given, it said on its website.