WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck much of New Zealand's South Island early today and caused widespread damage, but there were just two reports of serious injuries. Looters broke into some damaged shops in Christchurch, police said.
The quake, which hit 19 miles west of the southern city of Christchurch according to the state geological agency GNS Science, shook a wide area, with some residents saying buildings had collapsed and power was severed. No tsunami alert was issued.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency four hours after the quake rocked the region, warning people that continuing aftershocks could cause masonry to fall from damaged buildings.
The emergency meant parts of the city would be closed off and some buildings closed as unsafe, he said.
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Minister of Civil Defense John Carter said a state of civil emergency was declared as the quake was "a significant disaster," and army troops were on standby to assist.
Parker said the "sharp, vicious earthquake has caused significant damage in parts of the city... with walls collapsed that have fallen into the streets."
Chimneys and walls had fallen from older buildings, with roads blocked, traffic lights out and power, gas and water supplies disrupted, he said.
"The fronts of at least five buildings in the central city have collapsed and rubble is strewn across many roads," Christchurch resident Angela Morgan told the Associated Press.
"Roads have subsided where water mains have broken and a lot of people evacuated in panic from seaside areas for fear of a tsunami," she said, adding that "there is quite significant damage, really, with reports that some people were trapped in damaged houses."
"There is considerable damage in the central city and we've also had reports of looting, just shop windows broken and easy picking of displays," Police Inspector Mike Coleman told New Zealand's National Radio.