Residents on New Zealand’s eastern coastline fled their homes early Monday morning after powerful earthquakes triggered a tsunami.
Officials urged residents in Wellington, Christchurch, the Chatham Islands and other coastal areas to move inland or seek higher ground after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck shortly after midnight local time.
A magnitude-6.5 temblor hit shortly after about halfway between Wellington and Christchurch, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported.
Cars clogged the roads and tsunami sirens blared on New Zealand’s South Island as waves approached the northeastern coast. Emergency officials warned of tsunami waves as high as 5 meters, or over 16 feet, along certain stretches of South Island.
“First waves have arrived but may not be the largest,” New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management warned on Twitter at 3:30 a.m. local time. “The tsunami threat is for the entire NZ coastline. Stay off beaches.”
New Zealand sits on the notorious “Ring of Fire,” an arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes, and subsequent tsunamis, are common.
Monday’s magnitude-7.8 earthquake was centered 93 kilometers, or 57 miles, northeast of Christchurch in a rural area, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
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The first temblor caused powerful shaking in Wellington. Grocery store shelves spilled their contents, leaving trails of smashed bottles and discarded boxes. Chimneys collapsed and windows shattered in buildings throughout the capital, and hundreds of tourists were forced onto the streets as hotels were evacuated.
Christchurch experienced another powerful earthquake in 2011, which destroyed much of the South Island city and killed 185 people. However, the epicenter of Monday’s quake was much farther away from highly populated areas.
There were no immediate reports of any major damage or injuries in Christchurch.
Hannah Gin, a resident in the coastal city, said she had just sat down in her living room to watch a replay of a rugby match when her house started shaking. Her mother screamed from upstairs.
“I could hear the sliding door sliding back and forth and we’ve got washing hanging up and I could see the washing moving,” Gin told the Associated Press. “It just kept going and going.”
Associated Press contributed reporting.