Wellington CBD shut down after 7.5 North Canterbury quake shakes country

State Highway 1 is closed between Picton and Blenheim and between Blenheim and Kaikoura, due to earthquake damage (@MeganCampbellNZ)

Rob Hosking says quake will accelerate infrastructure spending

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UPDATE 10am: Spark has updated on its 30-minute 111 failure. Scroll to the end of the story for the statement.

LATEST:  Quake disrupts port operations in Napier, Wellington, Christchurch, Timaru

A 7.5 magnitude quake that struck 15 km northeast of Culverden, North Canterbury at 12.02am was responsible for at least two deaths, Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says.

The 16km-deep jolt was felt as far north as Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland and sparked tsunami evacuations up and down the east coast.

It has been followed by swarms of aftershocks in the Kaikoura region through the night, many over 5 magnitude and felt in Wellington.

Mr Brownlee confirmed there are at least two casualties. One person is dead following the collapse of the historic Elms Homestead near Kaikoura. Police say there is also a fatality at Mt Lyford, north of Christchurch. Early reports indicate the victim suffered a heart attack. Three people were treated in Christchurch Hospital for quake related-injuries.

Prime Minister John Key told a press briefing (see video below) that the number of casualties is unlikely to exceed two.

The prime minister, who had remained in the capital overnight following US Secretary of State John Kerry's visit, said his ninth-floor Beehive office had sustained damage. It was superficial, however. Displaced hotel guests were offered the chance to sleep on the ground-floor of the earthquake pad-protected building and dozens took up the offer.

Stay out of Wellington CBD
There have been no reports of injuries in Wellington, the local Civil Defence operation says, but scores of photos of property damage have been posted to social media showing property damage (scroll down).

In a statement issued by Wellington City Council, regional civil defence controller Bruce Pepperell says early indications are that a number of major buildings are showing “signs of structural stress” and that the strong quake will probably have caused a mess and disruption inside some buildings – particularly on higher floors. Civil Defence is telling people to stay out of the CBD until damage is assessed in the capital.

Shattered windows, old DTI building, corner of Featherston & Ballance Streets (Rob Hosking)

Emergency workers in the normally crowded Featherston St (Rob Hosking)

Mr Brownlee said it was routine for structural engineers to be called in as a precaution after a 5.5 or greater quake, and people shouldn't jump to conclusions about damage.

Civil Defence issued a tsunami alert for the east coast of New Zealand from East Cape to Southland, soon after the initial quake, and sirens were sounded in multiple areas, warning of waves up to 3m to 5m in some areas (see map below). People in low-lying areas of Wellington were among those who headed for higher ground.

At 12.46am, Xero boss Rod Drury tweeted, "Waiting up the hill with Aussie visitors in Hawke's Bay. Long roller. Pool water sloshed out."

The tsunami warning is now cancelled in all areas.

The epicentre of the 12.02am quake (GeoNet)

Canterbury man Ben Kepes, a veteran of the two major Christchurch quakes, posted, "Longest earthquake I've ever felt. 20km north of here."

Privacy commissioner John Edwards was among Wellington employers who told staff to stay home today until his organisation's CBD office could be assessed. A number of Wellington apartment blocks have been evacuated. 

Schools in Wellington and North Canterbury are also shut pending damage assessment.

State Highway 1 is closed in between Picton and Blenheim, and between Blenheim and Kaikoura, due to earthquake damage.

State Highway 7 is closed from Waipara to Springs Junction in Canterbury.

Culverton, the town nearest to the quake, has reportedly suffered minimal damage.

Kaikoura is cut off by road.

Locations of major aftershocks, spreading north to the tip of the South Island and into the lower North Island (GeoNet)

Wellington Airport is open for both international and domestic flights.

Trains and buses in the capital have been cancelled until further notice.

Interislander ferries were also cancelled following damage to a passenger bridge. There are also cracks in the wharf and surrounding roads.

About 6500 homes in Kaikoura and North Canterbury are without power.

Emergency calling was affected in the immediate aftermath of the quake but at 6.09am Spark said its landline and mobile networks were running as normal — albeit with cell sites running on backup power in some areas.

The earlier interruption to emergency calling was "due to the 111 service centre requiring evacuation," the company says (scroll to the end of the story for Spark's updated statement).

Spark has also said it will offer free wi-fi today for anyone who can get in range of its network, with no registration or logon required.

Vodafone says it has "a small number of sites down, mainly in the Wellington and Christchurch regions."

2degrees says some service is affected but hasn't offered details. The carrier is asking customers to txt rather than call.

Chorus says 2400 customers are without fixed-line service, mostly related to power issues. The network provider says the fibre optic line into Kaikoura appears to be damaged, limiting mobile and landline calls. A technician is in the town's phone exchange with a satellite phone, rerouting emergency calls.

Quake could bring infrastructure spending forward
NBR politics editor Rob Hosking says the quake is likely to bring infrastructure spending forward. It's concerning that a basic system like 111 emergency system lacks redundancy," he says. (NBR has asked Spark for an explanation why calls were not automatically redirected to another 111 calling centre).

"The government is going to have to do something it was eyeing up doing anyway, and that is to bring some fairly major infrastructure projects forward around our road [and] rail networks, electricity and communications," he says.

The NZX will open as normal, a spokeswoman says.

Scholarship exams have been postponed at all schools. NCEA is being assessed on a school-by-school basis.

Wellington man Richard Bicknell posted the images above.

A tsunami siren sounds in Sumner, Christchurch

Plaster cracks in a building in Wellington.

State Highway 1 is closed between Picton and Blenheim and between Blenheim and Kaikoura, due to earthquake damage.

Damage to a much-loved Wellington hostelry (Rob Hosking).

The Quiet Earth: MBIE's usually teeming HQ in the Wellington CBD (Rob Hosking).

RAW DATA: Spark statement on 111 failure (10am)

The 111 operator service is up and functioning normally.

However, some people have experienced, and will still be experiencing, issues calling 111 if they are in the Kaikoura or North Canterbury area, as communications in and out of some communities have been severely impacted by the earthquakes. As some local communications are still working, people may be able to contact local emergency services directly. Spark is sending engineers into affected local areas to restore any impacted 111 connectivity as soon as possible.

For a period of approximately 30 minutes immediately following this morning’s first earthquake at 12.05am, the 111 operator service was unavailable. This was because the call centre that answers and re-directs 111 calls, based in Featherston Street Wellington, was damaged by the earthquake and staff had to be evacuated immediately.

The normal procedure when the 111 call-centre is affected by a natural disaster is to re-route 111 calls directly to each of the emergency services, while the back-up 111 call-centre, in this case in Porirua, is activated [NBR asked why the changeover could not be done from the Porirua end, or another 111 centre. A Spark spokesman replied "Porirua is a business contingency planning site – basically a back-up site. It needed to be operationalised first ...  There is the main 111 call-centre in Featherston Street, and there are back-up 111 facilities in Porirua and Palmerston North and a smaller facility located with local police in Christchurch. The issue was the switchover from the main 111 call-centre not completing when the team – who had parts of the building falling around them at the time – thought it had. Once it became clear that it hadn’t switched over properly it was done remotely – hence the delay. It’s still not clear what caused the initial switchover failure – we haven’t been able to enter the building yet to investigate properly" – CK].

The team making the switchover procedure during the quake were impeded by falling ceiling tiles and air conditioning equipment, which landed on the very desk being used to make the switch. Although staff believed they had completed the procedure, it became apparent after they had urgently left the building that the procedure had not worked properly.

At this point, a secondary contingency procedure was invoked, which involved a remote switchover of the service, managed from the Network Operating Centre in Hamilton. This process was implemented and 111 service was then restored with emergency services able to field 111 calls directly from that point. 

Once the 111 operator team were relocated to the emergency back-up site in Porirua, calls were able to be rerouted back to the 111 call-centre from 7.50am.

The 111 operator team has been working through the night with relevant emergency services to minimise any impact to the public. We would like to apologise for the 111 service outage, and for any distress this may have caused members of the public trying to reach emergency services during that time.   

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6 Comments & Questions

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Few points:
Should a heart attack victim really be attributed as an earthquake fatality, something doesn't seem right or a bit sensationalist about that?

The USGS tectonic summary here http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/us1000778i#executive is quite interesting in that it describes the quake as being very broad and complex running across faultlines. We felt it quite strongly here in North Waikato and the aftershocks are occurring up and down the county from Taupo through Wellington to Christchurch. It looks like a mega-thrust event, hopefully not a foreshock for something bigger still but that cannot be discounted. The supermoon is still with us for a few more days.

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He blinded me with science! *dancing*

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Go Gerry - rebuild again on a swamp by the river on a major fault line for another 1 in 5 years event
Still it'll be cheaper now the insurance companies & EQC have sorted out all the shortcuts
Some leadership on this would be good

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Does the two states of emergencies allow marshall law in respect to looters?

Low lifes who plunder people should be at the very least birched.

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"marshall law" (sic)
I think, he means 'marital law'

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The wisdom or ignorance, of removing the 111 call centre from Christchurch, for "financial reasons", and having just one call centre for the entire country must be questioned pretty bloody strongly about now.

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