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New Zealand rocked by huge quake

  • Story Highlights
  • Powerful earthquake recorded off New Zealand's North Island
  • No immediate reports of casualties, emergency officials said
  • Quake occured in an undersea trench, 40 kilometers (25 miles) below surface
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(CNN) -- Buildings collapsed, power lines were knocked out and gas pipes ruptured when a powerful earthquake hit the northeastern coast of New Zealand late Thursday.

Media reports in New Zealand, citing the government, listed the quake -- reportedly felt as far south as the city of Christchurch -- at 6.8 magnitude. The U.S. Geological Survey put it at 6.6.

There were no reports of serious injury or death from the quake near the coastal city of Gisborne. But local resident Phil Robinson, who recently moved to New Zealand from the United Kingdom, told Television New Zealand that the quake had caused serious damage to the city.

"Everything was bedlam for about 15 or 20 seconds," Robinson said. "We gather several properties in town have been damaged. It's had a serious effect on lots of people in the city."

Robinson said communications were "patchy" and it was difficult to make telephone calls on both landlines and cell phones.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management confirmed to The Associated Press that three buildings in Gisborne had collapsed.

"As far as we are aware, there are no injuries in those buildings," Vince Cholewa said. "Most of the damage is utilities -- gas, water and electricity."

Television New Zealand said there were no reported injuries and that despite suffering minor damage, Gisborne hospital was operating normally. The network reported eye witnesses saying the city of Gisborne was covered in glass.

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Walker Vance, public information manager of Gisborne District Council, said there was no tsunami risk. He said people had attempted to get to higher ground because of tsunami fears but returned to their homes as they realized the threat had passed.

When asked how the quake had felt, he said it was "probably a series of three quick jolts, followed by a lull of a few seconds, followed by another two jolts." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Julie Clothier in Auckland contributed to this report.

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