Page last updated at 16:11 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 17:11 UK

Quake sparks NZ-Australia alert


A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck off the south-west coast of New Zealand, prompting a brief tsunami warning but causing little damage.

The tremor struck around the tip of New Zealand's South Island, generating warnings of a low-level tsunami.

People in coastal areas were for a time advised to move to higher ground.

New Zealand said the quake, west of Invercargill, measured 7.8 magnitude, and a second quake about 20 minutes later measured 6.1.

New Zealand's Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences initially recorded the first quake at 6.6 magnitude, before upgrading it.

The initial tremor struck 5km (3 miles) below ground in the remote Fiordland region at 2122 (0922 GMT), said the government institute, though US experts said it was much deeper.

'Cracks in buildings'

New Zealand issued a tsunami warning for a string of its coastal towns and cities, but later cancelled it.

The whole house was moving, the door was moving in the doorframe, and the fence posts were moving
Simon Wilson
Invercargill householder

Australia also scrapped its alert, but had said a tsunami was detected in the Tasman Sea heading towards the country's south-east coast.

The warning was downgraded to a "small boat alert" after about an hour, although officials had earlier been concerned it could bring coastal flooding.

The tremor lasted at least a minute and was felt as a rolling motion across New Zealand's South Island, according to reports.

Local media said the quake caused minor cracks in some buildings and sent stock tumbling from supermarket shelves.

People ran from restaurants in Queenstown as buildings shook, reports New Zealand's Herald newspaper. Power and phone lines were severed in some places.

"The whole house was moving, the door was moving in the doorframe, and the fence posts were moving," Invercargill resident Simon Wilson told Radio New Zealand.

Another Invercargill householder said his wife and their three young children huddled under the dining table during the quake, reported the New Zealand Press Association.

New Zealand records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, but only about 150 are felt by residents and fewer than 10 annually cause damage.

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