“We’ve certainly dodged a bullet,” said Vince Cholewa, a spokesman for the civil defense ministry. “There are buildings that have lost some plaster. Some cracks in walls — nothing major.”
The epicenter of the quake was near the northern tip of the country’s South Island, 14 miles south of the town of Blenheim, the the U.S. Geological Survey said. It struck at 2:31 p.m. local time and was followed by a series of aftershocks.
The quake was felt in the capital, Wellington, on the other side of the Cook Strait that lies between New Zealand’s two main islands.
“It’s very frightening,” said Cholewa, who’s based in Wellington. “I was on the eighth floor of a building and it certainly wobbled quite well. I was under my desk well and truly.”
A number of people were freed from elevators that stopped in buildings in the central business district, Wellington police said.
Train services in and out of Wellington were suspended, worsening traffic congestion as lots of people left the city early by car and on foot.
NZX, the country’s Wellington-based stock exchange, temporarily halted trading following the quake.Initially reported at a higher magnitude of 6.8, the earthquake hit at a depth of 6.2 miles, the USGS said.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and New Zealand authorities both said there was no tsunami threat.
New Zealand sits at the southwestern edge of the Pacific “ring of fire,” an area of high seismic and volcanic activity that stretches up through Japan, across to Alaska and down the west coasts of North and South America.
In February 2011, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake toppled buildings in the South Island city of Christchurch, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand.