World Bulletin / News Desk
“It's just utter devastation, I just don't know... that's months of work," Television New Zealand quoted John Key as saying after flying over the coastal town of Kaikoura in northeast South Island by helicopter.
After the magnitude 7.8 quake -- which shook New Zealand shortly after midnight, triggered a tsunami and resulted in damage to roads, ports and buildings -- Key has postponed his trip to Argentina.
The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management has lifted a tsunami warning it had issued earlier for the island nation’s coasts.
The District Council of the Marlborough region has issued an urgent warning for the area around the Clarence River north of Kaikoura after a breach was detected in a dam, saying “a large wall of water” was headed downstream, according to Radio New Zealand (RNZ).
Meanwhile, the mayor of nearby Hurunui District declared a state of local emergency.
The United States Geological Survey reported that the magnitude 7.8 struck around 93 kilometers (57.8 miles) northeast of Christchurch, the largest city in South Island.
It occurred at a shallow depth of 10 km, and was followed by more than 150 aftershocks throughout the day.
Civil Defence had advised residents of coastal South Island to move to higher ground and warned that a tsunami could also arrive in North Island, where the tremors had shaken the capital Wellington and as north as Auckland.
Some state highways in northern South Island and bridges in Marlborough were closed after suffering damage.
According to RNZ, authorities have advised people to avoid central Wellington for “at least the rest of the day” amid concerns that forecast high winds could send debris from damaged buildings flying.
Civil Defence announced no train services would run and no buses would replace them Monday, while inspections are ongoing at bridges and tunnels across the region.
Bruce Pepperell, Wellington’s regional controller, was quoted as saying that several major buildings exhibited signs of structural stress, with upper stories having suffered the most damage.
More than 2,000 homes reportedly remained without power in Marlborough and North Canterbury to the south, with almost 5,000 households still experiencing electric outages in the Wellington region.
New Zealand sits on the Ring of Fire, an area in the Pacific Ocean where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.