An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.4 struck central New Zealand just after midnight (5 pm Sunday IST), the US Geological Survey said, generating a tsunami that hit the northeast coast of the South Island.
New Zealand’s Civil Defence warned residents along the country’s entire east coast to seek higher ground.
Anna Kaiser, a seismologist at GNS Science said a tidal signal or surge of up to one metre (3 feet) had been recorded in North Canterbury region of the South Island.
“That’s reasonably significant so people should take this seriously,” she told Radio New Zealand.
The quake was centered 91 km (57 miles) north-northeast of Christchurch, the biggest city on New Zealand’s South Island. A 6.3 quake there in February 2011 killed 185 people and caused widespread damage.
The tremor, which was measured by New Zealand’s Geonet at magnitude 6.6, was felt throughout most of the country. Civil Defence said it was too early to assess the damage or whether there had been any injuries or deaths.
“The whole house rolled like a serpent and some things smashed, the power went out,” a woman who gave her name as Elizabeth told Radio New Zealand from her home in Takaka, near the top of the South Island.
Tamsin Edensor, a mother of two in Christchurch, said the shaking lasted a “long” time.
“We were asleep and woken to the house shaking, it kept going and going and felt like it was going to build up,” she told AFP.
She said there was no sign of damage on her street and the power was still on, adding that she was worried about towns and villages closer to the epicentre.
“We’re getting aftershocks at the moment. We’re going to stock up on water supplies just in case.”
In September, a strong 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of New Zealand, generating a small tsunami, but no significant damage or injuries were reported.
New Zealand is on the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, which form part of the so-called “Ring of Fire”, and experiences up to 15,000 tremors a year.