Magnitude 7.1 earthquake strikes south of New Zealand

Friday, August 22, 2003

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A powerful earthquake struck the remote southern coast of New Zealand today. There were no immediate reports of injury in the temblor, which was felt hundreds of miles away.

The magnitude 7.1 quake, about 12.5 miles deep, hit the Fiordland coast of South Island at 12:12 a.m., the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences said.

The quake was felt across southern New Zealand but emergency services had no immediate reports of casualties or serious damage.

Carl Koning, night porter at the Quality Hotel in the southern tourist town of Te Anau, said bottles, glasses and even television sets crashed onto the floor.

The quake shook parts of Sydney, Australia, 1,330 miles away. Guests on the upper floors of Sydney airport's Hilton Hotel felt the tremors but a hotel spokeswoman said there were no injuries or damage.

Seismologist Dr. Ken Gledhill said the quake "went on for a long time. These are the kind of quakes that make the earth ring."

Hundreds of aftershocks occurred in the first six hours after the temblor, including one with a magnitude of 6.2.

A magnitude 7 quake is capable of causing widespread and heavy damage if centered near populated areas.

Residents were "very, very lucky" the quake had hit a sparsely populated area," Gledhill said.

The Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences records about 14,000 earthquakes in and around New Zealand each year. Between 100 and 150 are big enough to be felt.

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