RING OF FIRE

Photos: Another major earthquake has caused “utter devastation” in New Zealand

“Here we go again” was possibly the first reaction of many New Zealanders when the top of the country’s South Island was struck by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake just after midnight (local time) in the early hours of Nov. 14. The human toll—two, at time of writing—paled in comparison to the 185 who died in the earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand’s second-largest city, in February 2011. But there was still, said prime minister John Key, “utter devastation,” including smashed highways and railway lines, and significant damage to towns. Kaikoura (population 3,740), famed more for whale-watching tourism than seismic events, was cut off.

A landslide covers a section of state highway 1 near Kaikoura, New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, after a powerful earthquake. A powerful earthquake that rocked New Zealand on Monday triggered landslides and a small tsunami, cracked apart roads and homes, but largely spared the country the devastation it saw five years ago when a deadly earthquake struck the same region.
A damaged stretch of highway near Kaikoura. (David Alexander/SNPA via AP)

Just across Cook Strait, the capital Wellington suffered widespread damage and shut down as officials checked the safety of buildings.

Stacked containers are affected after a 7.5 earthquake based around Cheviot in the South island shock the capital, at Centre Port, in Wellington, New Zealand, early 14 November 2016. According to reports, a 7.8 magnitude earthqauke has hit New Zealand overnight, triggering a tsunami warning for the east coast of the country.
Shipping containers shifted during the quake. (EPA/Ross Setford)
A paved road is lifted at the ports in Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, following an earthquake. A powerful earthquake struck New Zealand's South Island early Monday, killing at least two people, causing damage to buildings and infrastructure, and prompting emergency services to warn people along the coast to move to higher ground to avoid tsunami waves.
Damaged pavement at a Wellington port. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)
Groceries litter the aisle at the New World Supermarket in Miramar, after an earthquake based around Cheviot in the South island hit the capital Wellington, New Zealand, early 14 November 2016. According to reports, a 7.8 magnitude earthqauke has hit New Zealand overnight, triggering a tsunami warning for the east coast of the country.
A littered grocery store aisle in Wellington after the quake. (EPA/Ross Setford)
Motorway sign warning of Tsunami, in Wellington, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, after a major earthquake struck New Zealand's south Island early Monday. A powerful earthquake struck in a mostly rural area close to the city of Christchurch but appeared to be more strongly felt in the capital, Wellington, more than 200 Km (120 miles) away.
A warning in Wellington. (Ross Setford/SNPA via AP)

Tremors were felt as far afield as Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city (where this correspondent leapt awake). The disruption has been not just physical. Damage to schools forced cancellation of final exams for many students. Coming as it does on the cusp of the summer tourism season, the local economy is bound to take a hit—although Key has declared the country is in a good position to cope.

Thankfully, initial fears of a devastating tsunami came to naught. Waves reached 2 m (5.5 ft) in Kaikoura and a warning prompted widespread evacuations in coastal towns (even a declaration of a state of emergency in Dunedin, in the far south of the South Island), but the alert was downgraded by early afternoon.

In this image made from video, three cows are stranded on an island of grass in a paddock that had been ripped apart following an earthquake near Kaikoura, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. A powerful earthquake that rocked New Zealand on Monday triggered landslides and a small tsunami, cracked apart roads and homes, but largely spared the country the devastation it saw five years ago when a deadly earthquake struck the same region.
The earthquake left some animals near Kaikoura stranded. (Newshub via AP)

Yet there may be more bad news. Aftershocks abound. In the hours following the quake, getting on for 300 have been recorded, including several with a magnitude of 4 or higher. Seismologists warn they are likely to continue for a long time to come—as they have in Christchurch and elsewhere since 2011. The quake (actually two movements, according to seismologists) was the largest in New Zealand since 2009, and considerably stronger (if far deeper) than the 6.3 magnitude movement in Christchurch in 2011.

Kiwis have taken heart from the so-far smooth reaction by authorities—evidence that the experience of Christchurch has not gone to waste. But, as both Key and Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel have suggested, there will be a morale effect, especially for Christchurch citizens stressed by aftershocks and insurance battles (although the city was not itself hit hard this time).

This latest shake has further flamed Kiwi fears long-suppressed until 2011. With the country situated where the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates knock up against each other, on the Pacific “ring of fire,” New Zealand gets around 14,000 shakes a year. But a sparse population (there are only about 4 million Kiwis in all) has meant loss of life has been rare—until 2011, the last significant loss of life had been in 1931. With Christchurch and now Wellington feeling the earth move, fears of more “big ones” are being felt ever more often.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search