A powerful earthquake struck near the southwest coast of New Zealand’s South Island in the relatively remote and unpopulated Fiordland region at 09:22:32 UTC on 15 July (20:22:32 local time), causing minor damage and prompting a brief tsunami warning. The earthquake, measuring 7.6 Mw, was located around 150 kilometers (95 miles) west-northwest of Invercargill City and 175 kilometers (110 miles) west-southwest of Queenstown, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS added that the quake was centred about 35 kilometers (22 miles) underground. The initial earthquake was followed by another strong earthquake of 5.8 Mw at 09:42 UTC (20:42 local time).
The USGS said around 119,000 people live in areas impacted by a Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) of V or higher. Invercargill (population of around 50,000 people) and Queenstown (population of around 10,000) experienced intensity V on the MMI scale, equivalent to strong shaking with the potential for light damage, according to the USGS. The USGS added that very strong shaking with intensity VII on the MMI scale occurred in the far southwestern tip of the South Island but reports said this area is sparsely populated. According to the USGS, the towns of Te Anau (population of around 2,000) and Riverton (population of around 1,000) were affected by intensity VI on the MMI scale, equivalent to strong shaking with the potential for light damage.
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The initial earthquake prompted the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre to issue a tsunami warning for New Zeland but it was withdrawn about an hour after the quake. The Centre said the earthquake triggered a small tsunami near the epicentre with wave heights of up to 17 centimeters (7 inches), but said no major damage had been reported. Australia’s Tsunami Warning Centre also issued a warning after the earthquake, saying a small tsunami had been detected in the Tasman Sea and was heading towards the country’s southeast coast. Australia subsequently cancelled its tsunami warning, downgrading the threat to a “small boat alert.”
Local media in New Zealand said the earthquake was felt widely throughout the lower South Island, but no reports of serious damage or injuries have been received so far. Power and phone lines were severed in some places and cracks in buildings were reported in the town of Tuatapere, officials said. There were also reports of items falling off shelves in Queenstown. Officials in Invercargill said there were no immediate reports of damage in the city, but the shaking was significant enough to send staff running into doorways for safety. Officials said the earthquake was also felt in Dunedin.
Sources: USGS, WSI, Reuters News, Associated News, Agence France Presse, BBC News, CNN News, Xinhua News Agency, AAP Bulletins, New Zealand Press Association
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