CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake that smashed buildings, cracked roads and twisted rail lines around the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Saturday also ripped a new 11-foot wide fault line in the earth's surface, officials said Sunday.
At least 500 buildings, including 90 downtown properties, have been designated as destroyed in the quake that struck at 4:35 a.m. near the South Island city of 400,000 people. But most other buildings sustained only minor damage.
Only two serious injuries were reported from the quake as chimneys and walls of older buildings were reduced to rubble and crumbled to the ground. The prime minister said it was a miracle no one was killed.
Power was cut across the region, roads were blocked by debris, and gas and water supplies were disrupted, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said. He warned that continuing aftershocks could cause masonry to fall from damaged buildings, as could gale force winds due to buffet the region today.
Canterbury University geology professor Mark Quigley said what "looks to us that it could be a new fault" had ripped across the earth and pushed some surface areas up about three feet. The quake was caused by the ongoing collision between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates, he said.
"One side of the earth has lurched to the right... up to 11 feet and in some places been thrust up," Quigley told National Radio.
"The long linear fracture on the earth's surface does things like break apart houses, break apart roads. We went and saw two houses that were completely snapped in half by the earthquake," he said.
Roger Bates, whose dairy farm at Darfield was close to the quake's epicenter, said the new fault line had ripped up the surface across his land.
"The whole dairy farm is like the sea now, with real (soil) waves right across the dairy farm. We don't have physical holes (but) where the fault goes through it's been raised a meter or meter and a half," he told National Radio.
Experts said the low number of injuries in the powerful quake reflects the country's strict building codes.