Two people have died after a massive 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand just after midnight local time.
The quake was centred at Hamner Springs in the South Island, not far from the disastrous 2011 Christchurch earthquakes.
It was felt along most of the country. Wellington has been badly affected and there are fears of more casualties.
“On the best information we have there’s been two fatalities. At this point we’re unable to give you precise information on what caused those fatalities,” Prime Minister John Key said in his first address to media since the earthquake.
“We think it’s only likely to be two. There are isolated parts of the country that we don’t have perfect eyes on so we can’t be 100 per cent sure.”
The quake caused damage in both the North and South Islands.
Kaikoura on the east coast of the South Island was the worst affected town, and an Air Force helicopter has been despatched to assess the situation.
Firefighters are searching for one person in the rubble of a historic homestead in the area. Another person was found alive in the rubble.
A national emergency hasn’t been called at this stage because the 16 regional Civil Defences are all activated and able to “carry out their functions”.
The quake was widely felt in both the South and North Islands, as far north as Auckland, causing damage and knocking out power as well as triggering tsunami alerts.
Assessment teams were travelling to Waiau and Blenheim, in the north of the South Island.
Fire Service says the TSB Arena and BNZ Centre on the waterfront sustained the most damage but no earthquake-related injuries have been reported in the city at this stage. The public has been told to stay out of the CBD.
Many of the harbour capital’s residents have been evacuating after a tsunami warning was issued for all coastal areas of New Zealand.
The water at Lyall Bay, site of the city’s airport, was reportedly sucked out by 200m, and residents of low-lying areas were urged to evacuate and move to higher ground.
Hills surrounding the area were lined with people in cars seeking higher ground.
Police were seen in the area speaking to people heading down to the beach to have a look and asking them to move on.
In the CBD, hundreds of people were on the streets as building alarms sounded and fire engines and police cars headed around the CBD.
Windows in some high-rise office buildings were smashed, while plaster and masonry appears to have fallen down from some buildings.
Near Civic Square, hotel guests huddled together in bathrobes while they waited for their buildings to be cleared.
In Wakefield St, directly opposite the Wellington City Council offices, large chunks of masonry have fallen from a building, smashing glass below.
Emergency services had shut the street down.
A logging truck shed some of its load at Wellington’s port.
Aftershocks were continuing to be felt in the city.
All Interislander ferry sailings are on hold and an Interislander ferry is unable to dock in Picton following the 7.5-magnitude earthquake, leaving passengers and crew to sleep on board.
Meanwhile the ferry passenger bridge in Wellington had been swept away after earlier sustaining damage.
“All of our ferry sailing have been put on hold. We have one ferry that moored just out of Picton with just a few passengers on board while we complete some sections of the port side infrastructure both at Picton and Wellington,” KiwiRail group general manager of network services Todd Moyle told RNZ.