Big Mexico quake cuts power and damages homes; two dead in crash

People stand on the street after an earthquake shook buildings in Mexico City, Mexico February 16, 2018.

By Lizbeth Diaz and Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A prolonged 7.2 magnitude quake that rocked Mexico on Friday left nearly a million homes and businesses without power in the capital and south but the only reported deaths came when a military helicopter crashed after surveying the aftermath.

At least 50 homes suffered damage in the southern state of Oaxaca, which, along with Mexico City, is still reeling from earthquakes that caused widespread damage in September.

The epicenter was about 90 miles (145 km) from Pacific coast surfer resort Puerto Escondido in the southern state of Oaxaca and had a depth of 15.3 miles (24.6 km), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

At least two people died when a helicopter carrying Mexico’s interior minister and the governor of Oaxaca crashed while trying to land after a tour of damage from the earthquake, officials said. The senior officials survived.

The powerful, sustained shaking on Friday gave way to 225 aftershocks, the national seismology service said, and caused widespread panic.

In Mexico City, the seismic alarm sounded 72 seconds before tremors were felt, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said, giving residents time to flee to the streets.

Patricia Gutierrez, a 66-year-old English teacher, was taking a nap with her 11-month-old granddaughter, Juliet, when she heard the distinctive siren.

“She recognized the sound. When I opened my eyes, I saw her eyes in terror. Her eyes were wide, like plates. She didn’t say anything,” Gutierrez said of her granddaughter.

Gutierrez managed to leave her ground floor apartment before the quake began. “I left the phone and everything except for my shoes and the baby,” she said.

Authorities said no deaths directly linked to the quake had been reported nationally.

BRICKS AND RUBBLE

The Oaxacan town of Jamiltepec appeared to sustain the heaviest impact in the southern region, with 50 homes damaged along with a church and government building, the state’s civil protection agency said.

Patients were evacuated from a hospital there and from another in the nearby town of Putla Villa de Guerrero. On a local highway, a fire ignited when two high-tension electric cables struck each other.

In the town of Pinotepa Nacional close to the quake’s epicenter, a photo obtained from Oaxaca’s civil protection agency showed a single-story building where a portion of the brick facade had crumbled into the street. A hospital was also damaged, and a collapsed structure blocked a major highway.

About 100,000 people in Oaxaca had lost power, the state’s governor said.

National oil firm Pemex said its installations were in order, including its biggest refinery 240 miles (386 km) from the epicenter. A hotel operator in Puerto Escondido said his property had no damage.

Tremors were felt as far away as Guatemala to the south.

Images in the media appeared to show bricks and rubble fallen from buildings, and products tumbling off shelves in a supermarket.

In Mexico City, tall buildings swayed for more than a minute as seismic alarms sounded, with older structures in the chic Condesa neighborhood knocking into each other, and some cracks appearing in plaster and paintwork.

The Popocatepetl volcano south of the capital sent a kilometer-high column of ash into the sky, said Mexico’s disaster prevention agency.

Two young men standing by a building that collapsed in a Sept. 19 earthquake were still hugging minutes after the tremor. People crowded in the streets, one lady in her pajamas.

Trees, overhead cables and cars swayed, and a fire truck raced down the street.

Guadalupe Martinez, a 64-year-old retiree, said she was still shaking from shock. But the quake was a far cry from the tremors that struck Mexico in September, Martinez said.

“This time it was strong, but it did not jump up and down,” she said.

(Reporting by Julia Love, Christine Murray, Michael O’Boyle, David Alire Garcia, Anthony Esposito and Stefanie Eschenbacher; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Lisa Shumaker and Tom Hogue)

Quake-hit Taiwan city winds down rescue efforts, five still missing

A body of a Hong Kong Canadian is carried out from a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018.

By Fabian Hamacher and Natalie Thomas

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Rescue operations in Taiwan started to wind down on Friday after a devastating 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the tourist area of Hualien this week, taking a toll of 12 dead and five missing.

More than 270 people were injured when Tuesday’s quake hit the eastern coastal city just before midnight, toppling four buildings, ripping large fissures in roads and unleashing panic among the roughly 100,000 residents.

More than 200 aftershocks followed, hampering a round-the-clock rescue effort in which emergency personnel battled rain and cold to comb rubble in a search for survivors.

Efforts on Friday narrowed to finding five Chinese nationals still missing after rescuers pulled two bodies, identified as Canadian citizens from Hong Kong, out of a 12-storey residential building that had been left tilting at a 45-degree angle.

An excavator demolishes collapsed Marshal hotel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018.

An excavator demolishes collapsed Marshal hotel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Authorities said they would focus their search on the single building where the five missing were believed to be.

“The military will continue to prioritize today rescuing the missing people in the Yun Men Tsui Ti residential building,” it said in a statement.

The building’s extreme displacement made the search tough, the government said in a statement, adding, “The space for our operations is small, so the progress of search and rescue can be slow.”

Power was restored to all affected areas in Hualien, although 8,500 homes are still without water.

The military will work with local government officials to develop a plan to demolish a hotel, a residential building and other dangerous buildings, it said in its statement.

The government vowed to redouble efforts to revise building regulations, aiming to limit damage in any future episodes.

Taiwan revised its building act on Jan. 30 to strengthen investigations of the structures of existing buildings and inspection of completed projects, the interior ministry said on Friday.

The revision, expected to be discussed by a cabinet meeting at the end of February, would also seek third-party views in building assessments, it said.

The government added that it would hasten reconstruction of old buildings to make them earthquake-resistant and work to boost the safety of other structures in affected areas.

“At every stage, the central government will fully assist local governments,” it added.

 

(Additional reporting by Tyrone Siu; Writing by Jess Macy Yu; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Clarence Fernandez)

Strong earthquake in southern Peru leaves one dead, scores injured

A man observes a damage building after a strong magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru, in Acari, Arequipa , Peru, January 14, 2018.

By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) – A strong magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru on Sunday morning, killing one person, injuring scores and causing homes and roads to collapse.

The quake hit offshore at 4:18 a.m. local time (0918 GMT) at a depth of around 36 km (22.4 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. The epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean 40 km from the town of Acari.

Arequipa Governor Yamila Osorio said on Twitter that a 55-year-old man died in the town of Yauca after being crushed by rocks. Jorge Chavez, chief of Peru’s Civil Defense Institute, told local radio station RPP that 65 people were injured.

Several municipalities lost electricity, and many roads and adobe houses collapsed, Osorio said. Many residents of Lomas, a coastal town, were evacuated after feeling an aftershock.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski traveled to the towns of Chala and Acari, two of the areas most affected by the quake, to assess the damages and coordinate the response. He said some 100 houses had collapsed.

A man and a child stand at debris of a building after a strong magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru, in Acari, Arequipa , Peru, January 14, 2018.

A man and a child stand at debris of a building after a strong magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru, in Acari, Arequipa , Peru, January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Diego Ramos

“We are going to send everything that is needed, such as tents for people whose homes were destroyed,” Kuczynski told reporters in Chala.

Earthquakes are common in Peru, but many homes are built with precarious materials that cannot withstand the tremors.

In 2007 an earthquake killed hundreds in the region of Ica.

Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz said at a news conference in Lima that the government would declare a state of emergency in the affected zones to allow for faster reconstruction of roads and homes. Devastating floods last year resulted in $8 billion in rebuilding costs.

Peruvian maritime authorities said the quake did not produce a tsunami on the coast. In the morning, officials said a second person had died and that 17 people were missing in a mine, but later withdrew the reports.

Peru is the world’s No. 2 copper producer, although many mines in the south are located far inland from the quake’s epicenter. A Southern Copper Corp representative said there were no reports of damage at its Cuajone and Toquepala mines.

Jesus Revilla, a union leader at the Cerro Verde copper mine in Arequipa, said there were no reports that operations had been affected.

The quake was also felt in northern Chile, Peru’s southern neighbor, but authorities said there was no tsunami risk.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino and Luc Cohen; Additional reporting by Antonio de la Jara in Santiago; Editing by Louise Heavens, Lisa Von Ahn and Jeffrey Benkoe)

South Korea spy agency sees signs of planned new missile test by North

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a cosmetics factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on October 28, 2017.

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea may be planning a new missile test, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers on Thursday, after brisk activity was spotted at its research facilities, just days before U.S. President Donald Trump visits Seoul.

Reclusive North Korea has carried out a series of nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, but has not launched any missiles since firing one over Japan on Sept. 15, the longest such lull this year.

However a flurry of activity including the movement of vehicles has been detected at the North’s missile research facilities in Pyongyang, where the most recent missile test was conducted, pointing to another possible launch, South Korea’s Intelligence Service said in a briefing to lawmakers.

It did not say how the activity was detected.

North Korea has made no secret of its plans to perfect a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. It regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its “puppet”, South Korea.

“There is a possibility of a new missile launch given the active movement of vehicles around the missile research institute in Pyongyang. The North will constantly push for further nuclear tests going forward, and the miniaturization and diversification of warheads,” the intelligence agency said at the briefing.

The North’s nuclear testing site in the northwestern town of Punggye-ri could have been damaged by its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3, according to Kim Byung-kee, Yi Wan-young and Lee Tae-gyu, members of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee.

The explosion triggered an aftershock within eight minutes and three additional shocks.

Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi, citing unnamed sources, said on Tuesday a tunnel at the test site collapsed after that explosion, possibly killing more than 200 people. Reuters has not been able to verify the report which North Korea on Thursday denounced as false and defamatory.

Pyongyang will likely detonate more devices as it tries to master the miniaturization of nuclear warheads to put atop missiles, the lawmakers said.

The third tunnel at the Punggye-ri complex remained ready for another test “at any time”, while construction had resumed at a fourth tunnel, making it unable to be used “for a considerable amount of time”, they added.

Trump is to visit five Asian nations in coming days for talks in which North Korea will be a major focus. The visit includes the North’s lone major ally, China, and U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, which have watched with increasing worry as Trump and North Korea have exchanged bellicose rhetoric.

 

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Nick Macfie)

 

One dead as strong earthquake hits Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) – A strong earthquake struck the central Philippines on Thursday killing at least one person and damaging several houses and some infrastructure, officials said.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) said aftershocks were expected but ruled out any tsunami following the earthquake of magnitude 6.5 that rocked the towns of Jaro and Kananga in Leyte province.

Congresswoman Lucy Torres-Gomez from the province said one person had been confirmed killed and Kananga had been “badly hit”.

“There were cracks on the roads and in some areas landslides have been reported,” she told ANC News Channel, adding that a building also collapsed.

“The aftershocks are still quite strong.”

The U.S. Geological Survey said earlier the quake had a magnitude of 6.9 and struck southwest of Tacloban City, one of the areas hardest hit by a typhoon in 2013.

Tacloban’s mayor, Cristina Romualdez, said she received no reports of casualty or damage in her area.

(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Robert Birsel)

5.3-magnitude quake shakes big island of Hawaii: USGS

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A 5.3-magnitude earthquake shook the Big Island of Hawaii on Thursday, near the Kilauea Volcano, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or substantial damage from the quake and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said no tsunami was expected to result.

According to the USGS, the temblor rattled the Big Island at 7:01 a.m. local time (1601 GMT) at a depth of 8 kilometers (4.9 miles).

“As in all earthquakes, be aware of the possibility of aftershocks,” Hawaii County Civil Defense said in an alert.

“If the earthquake was strongly felt in your area, precautionary checks should be made for any damages, especially to utility connections of gas, water and power,” the agency said.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Nearly 100 killed, more than 500 injured as massive quake hits Indonesia

Rescue workers and police remove a victim from a collapsed building following an earthquake in Lueng Putu, Pidie Jaya in the northern province of Aceh, Indonesia

PIDIE JAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Nearly 100 people were killed and hundreds injured in Indonesia on Wednesday when a strong earthquake hit its Aceh province and rescuers used earth movers and bare hands to search for survivors in scores of toppled buildings.

Medical volunteers rushed in fading evening light to get people to hospitals, which were straining to cope with the influx of injured.

The Aceh provincial government said in a statement 93 people had died and more than 500 were injured, many seriously.

Sutopo Nugroho of Indonesia’s national disaster management agency, said a state of emergency had been declared in Aceh, which sits on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

“We are now focusing on searching for victims and possible survivors,” said Nugroho. His agency put the death toll at 94.

People walk near a collapsed mosque following an earthquake in Meuredu, Pidie Jaya in the northern province of Aceh, Indonesia

People walk near a collapsed mosque following an earthquake in Meuredu, Pidie Jaya in the northern province of Aceh, Indonesia December 7, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/ Irwansyah Putra/via REUTERS

Aceh was devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami centered on its western coast near the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, on Dec. 26, 2004. That tsunami killed 226,000 people along Indian Ocean shorelines.

Officials urged people to sleep outdoors as twilight fell, in case aftershocks caused more damage to already precarious buildings.

President Joko Widodo was expected to visit the area on Thursday, his deputy told media.

Wednesday’s quake hit the east coast of the province, about 170 km (105 miles) from Banda Aceh. Nugroho said Aceh’s Pidie Jaya regency, with a population of about 140,000, was worst hit.

Many victims had suffered broken bones and gashes and had to be treated in hospital corridors and hastily erected disaster tents, a Reuters witness said.

Injured people receive medical attention in an emergency tent at a hospital following an earthquake in Sigli, Pidie regency, in the northern province of Aceh, Indonesia

Injured people receive medical attention in an emergency tent at a hospital following an earthquake in Sigli, Pidie regency, in the northern province of Aceh, Indonesia December 7, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Irwansyah Putra/via REUTERS

Television showed footage of flattened mosques, fallen electricity poles and crushed cars.

A Red Crescent volunteer said health workers were struggling.

“There aren’t enough medical staff,” the Red Crescent’s Muklis, who like many Indonesians uses one name, told TVOne.

Nugroho said more than 1,000 personnel, including military officers and volunteers, had been deployed to help in disaster relief.

A medical officer checks the condition of an injured child at a hospital following an earthquake in Sigli, Pidie regency, in the northern province of Aceh, Indonesia

A medical officer checks the condition of an injured child at a hospital following an earthquake in Sigli, Pidie regency, in the northern province of Aceh, Indonesia December 7, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Irwansyah Putra/via REUTERS

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck just after 5 a.m. (2200 GMT Tuesday) at a depth of 17 km (11 miles). No tsunami warning was issued.

At least five aftershocks were felt after the initial quake, the disaster management agency said.

The region suffered massive destruction in 2004 when a 9.2 magnitude quake triggered a tsunami that wiped out entire communities in Indonesia and other countries around the Indian Ocean.

Indonesia was the hardest hit, with more than 120,000 people killed in Aceh.

(Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA and Reuters stringer in PIDIE JAYA; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

New Zealand evacuates quake hit town, fears of Wellington building collapse

By Lincoln Feast and Charlotte Greenfield

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand emergency services and defense personnel evacuated hundreds of tourists and residents from a small South Island town amid more strong aftershocks on Tuesday, a day after a powerful earthquake killed two people.

The 7.8-magnitude tremor struck just after midnight on Sunday, destroying farm homesteads, sending glass and masonry toppling from buildings in the capital, Wellington, and cutting road and rail links throughout the northeast of the ruggedly beautiful South Island.

As aftershocks continued to rattle the region, emergency services cordoned off streets in Wellington and evacuated several buildings due to fears one of them might collapse.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force member (R) helps evacuate a toddler and others aboard an NH90 helicopter from Kaikoura on the South Island of New Zealand

A Royal New Zealand Air Force member (R) helps evacuate a toddler and others aboard an NH90 helicopter from Kaikoura on the South Island of New Zealand November 15, 2016, stranded following the recent earthquakes. Sgt Sam Shepherd/Courtesy of Royal New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said the vacant building appeared to have suffered structural damage when the land it was on subsided in the quake. A fire service official said a major structural beam had “snapped like a bone”.

The town of Kaikoura, a popular base for whale-watching about 150 km (90 miles) northeast of Christchurch, the South Island’s main city, remained cut off by massive landslips.

Four defense force helicopters flew in to the town on Tuesday morning and two Navy vessels were heading to the area carrying supplies and to assist with the evacuation, Air Commander Darryn Webb, acting commander of New Zealand joint forces, told TVNZ.

“We’re looking to do as many flights as we can out of Kaikoura today,” he said.

Around 400 of the 1,200 tourists stranded in the town were flown out on Tuesday, including 12 people with a variety of injuries, officials said.

 

Landslides block State Highway One near Kaikoura on the upper east coast of New Zealand's South Island following an earthquake, November 14, 2016. Sgt Sam Shepherd/Courtesy of Royal New Zealand

Landslides block State Highway One near Kaikoura on the upper east coast of New Zealand’s South Island following an earthquake, November 14, 2016. Sgt Sam Shepherd/Courtesy of Royal New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS –

The Red Cross, which used defense force helicopters to bring in emergency generators, satellite communications and water bladders, said water in the town was running out.

Mark Solomon, a leader of South Island indigenous Maori Ngai Tahu tribe, which has tourism and fisheries businesses around Kaikoura, said the local marae (Maori meeting place) had received 1,000 people since Monday morning. Many slept overnight in the communal hall or in vehicles outside.

The tribe had fed them with crayfish, a delicacy for which the South Island town is famous. With no power, the tanks that hold the expensive crustaceans had stopped pumping.

“It’s better to use the food than throw it in the rubbish so we sent it up to the marae to feed people,” Solomon told Reuters by phone.

AFTERSHOCKS, WIND AND RAIN

China chartered four helicopters to evacuate around 40 nationals from Kaikoura, mostly elderly and children, late on Monday, said Liu Lian, an official at the Chinese Consulate in Christchurch.

One Chinese national had been treated for a minor head injury in Kaikoura’s hospital, Liu said, and around 60 others would be evacuated on Tuesday.

“They have been trapped in Kaikoura for a couple of days, some are maybe scared, they have some mental stress,” Liu told Reuters. Many planned to continue journeys to other parts of New Zealand, Liu said.

Other tourists also said they planned to continue their trips, and travel agencies said they hadn’t noticed a drop off in bookings, easing concerns about a major hit to the sector, New Zealand’s biggest export earner.

Gale-force winds and rain were hampering recovery efforts, and hundreds of aftershocks continued to rock the region. A 5.4 tremor was among the bigger aftershocks and was felt strongly in Wellington.

Finance Minister Bill English said the government was well positioned to deal with the expected repair bill of billions of dollars, with low debt and budget surpluses.

“We are in about as good a shape as we could be to deal with this natural disaster,” English told parliament.

Civil Defence estimated 80,000-100,000 landslides had been caused by the quakes.

New Zealand media reported that three cows filmed stranded on a small patch of grass surrounded by landslips near Kaikoura had been rescued by a farmer.

Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said New Zealand had accepted an offer of two U.S. Navy helicopters from the destroyer the USS Sampson, as well as an offer of help from the Japanese military.

It was hoped an inland road to Kaikoura from the south could be reopened by the weekend, he said.

Workers earlier began returning to office buildings in Wellington’s business district, which was closed off on Monday while the risk to buildings was assessed.

Several blocks were damaged, including the offices of Statistics New Zealand, which halted the release of economic data and said it would be months before it could use the building.

An A-League soccer match scheduled for Saturday between the Wellington Phoenix and Australia’s Melbourne Victory has been postponed because of damage to Wellington’s 34,000-seat Westpac Stadium, officials said.

New Zealand lies in the seismically active “Ring of Fire”, a 40,000-km arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that encircles much of the Pacific Ocean.

Christchurch is still recovering from a 6.3 magnitude quake in 2011 that killed 185 people.

(Additional reporting by Swati Pandey and Nick Mulvenney in SYDNEY; Editing by Paul Tait)

‘Utter devastation’ after major quake, aftershocks hit New Zealand

Landslide blocking road

By Charlotte Greenfield and Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake pummeled central New Zealand early on Monday, killing at least two people, damaging roads and buildings and setting off hundreds of strong aftershocks.

Emergency response teams flew by helicopter to the region at the epicenter of the tremor, which struck just after midnight some 91 km (57 miles) northeast of Christchurch in the South Island, amid reports of injuries and collapsed buildings.

“It’s just utter devastation, I just don’t know … that’s months of work,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee after flying over the coastal town of Kaikoura, according to Brownlee’s Twitter account.

He described landslips in the area as “just horrendous”. In a statement seen by Reuters, Key said of the likely damage bill: “You’ve got to believe it’s in the billions of dollars to resolve.”

Powerlines and telecommunications were down, with huge cracks in roads, land slips and other damage to infrastructure making it hard to reach the worst-affected areas.

A tsunami warning that led to mass evacuations after the original quake was downgraded after large swells hit New Zealand’s capital Wellington, in the North Island, and Christchurch.

Wellington was a virtual ghost town with workers ordered to stay away while the city council assessed the risk to buildings, several of which were damaged by the tremor. There were concerns that loose glass and masonry could be dislodged by severe weather hitting the capital, with 140 km per hour (85 mph) winds forecast.

Hundreds of aftershocks, the strongest a 6.2 quake at about 1.45 p.m. local time (0045 GMT), rattled the South Pacific country, fraying nerves in an area where memories of a deadly 2011 quake are still fresh.

Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s ruggedly beautiful South Island, is still recovering from the 6.3 quake in 2011 that killed 185 people.

New Zealand’s Civil Defence declared a state of emergency for the Kaikoura region, centered on a tourist town about 150 km (90 miles) northeast of Christchurch, soon after Monday’s large aftershock.

Kaikoura, a popular spot for whale watching, appeared to have borne the brunt of the quake.

“Our immediate priority is ensuring delivery of clean water, food and other essentials to the residents of Kaikoura and the estimated 1,000 tourists in the town,” Brownlee said.

The Navy’s multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury was heading to the area, he said.

Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) said a 20-person rescue team and two sniffer dogs had arrived in the town. A second team was on standby in Christchurch, USAR said in a statement.

Police in the area around Christchurch reported 19 burglaries of homes and commercial properties after the quake as residents headed for higher ground.

“It is extremely disappointing that at a time when people are facing such a traumatic event and communities are coming together to support one another, there are others who are only interested in taking advantage,” Canterbury District Commander Superintendent John Price said in a statement.

TWIN QUAKES

Hours after the quake, officials said a slip dam caused by the quakes that had blocked the Clarence River north of the town had breached, sending a wall of water downstream.

A group of kayakers missing on the river was later reported safe.

New Zealand’s Geonet measured Monday’s first quake at magnitude 7.5, while the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 7.8. The quakes and aftershocks rattled buildings and woke residents across the country, hundreds of kilometers from the epicenter.

Geonet said four faults had ruptured, with one at the coast appearing to have slipped as much as 10 meters (33 feet).

Government research unit GNS Science said the overnight tremor appeared to have been two simultaneous quakes which together lasted more than two minutes.

New Zealand lies in the seismically active “Ring of Fire”, a 40,000 km arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that partly encircles the Pacific Ocean. Around 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes occur within this region.

Stock exchange operator NZX Ltd said markets traded normally, although many offices in the capital were closed. The New Zealand dollar initially fell to a one-month low before mostly recovering.

Fonterra, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, said some its farms were without power and would likely have to dump milk.

Prime Minister Key postponed a trip to Argentina, where he had planned to hold a series of trade meetings ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Peru this week, as he met disaster officials.

At least one of those killed was found in a house in Kaikoura that “collapsed like a stack of cards”, Kaikoura Hospital’s Dr Christopher Henry told Fairfax media. Two other people were pulled alive from the same building.

New Zealand media reported one of the pilots taking rescuers to the area was Richie McCaw, the recently retired captain of New Zealand’s world champion All Blacks rugby team.

“At one point, the railway was way out over the sea – it had been pushed out by (land) slips. It would not have been a nice place to be at midnight last night,” McCaw told the New Zealand Herald after helping fly the USAR team to Kaikoura.

(Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury in WELLINGTON, Jamie Freed, Wayne Cole and Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Aftershocks bring Misery for Japan

Yuji Maeda cries as he watches search and rescue operation at a site where houses collapsed due to a landslide caused by an earthquake in Minamiaso town

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – Aftershocks rattled survivors of deadly Japanese earthquakes on Wednesday, nearly a week after the first one struck, as the area braced for heavy rain and the possibility of more landslides.

Rescuers using backhoes and shovels to dig through crumpled houses swept away in a landslide found a woman’s body, one of several people still missing. Another death was confirmed later in the day, taking the toll to 48.

Hundreds of people in the Kumamoto area of southwestern Japan spent another night in their cars, afraid to return to damaged houses.

Medical experts warned of the danger of potentially fatal blood clots from sitting too long in cramped conditions after a 51-year-old woman died and at least 12 people were hospitalized.

Eleven people appear to have died of illnesses related to their prolonged stay in evacuation centers, NHK national television said. The first quake hit late last Thursday and the largest, at magnitude 7.3, some 27 hours later.

“I keep thinking the earthquakes will stop, but they just go on and on,” one woman at an evacuation center in Mashiki, one of the worst-hit areas, told NHK.

“It’s really scary.”

Of more than 680 aftershocks hitting Kyushu island since April 14, more than 89 have registered at magnitude 4 or more on Japan’s intensity scale, strong enough to shake buildings.

An earthquake of 5.8 magnitude struck off Japan’s northeast coast on Wednesday evening, the U.S. Geological Survey said, but there was no tsunami warning, nor were there any reports of damage or casualties.

The agency gave an initial magnitude of 6.1 for the quake that was centered 104 km (about 60 miles) southeast of Sendai, Honshu, near where a devastating quake and tsunami struck in March 2011, killing about 20,000 people.

On Kyushu, nearly 100,000 people were in evacuation centers, some huddling in blankets outside as night temperatures fell as low as 8 Celsius (46 Fahrenheit).

Heavy rain is expected over the area, raising fear that slopes weakened by the quakes could collapse.

Authorities have begun condemning buildings and other structures deemed unsafe. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of buildings collapsed, many brought down by their heavy roofs of traditional tiles.

Though public buildings must abide by stringent safety standards, the law is lax for private homes.

“When a big earthquake hits, structures may sustain damage that’s impossible to fix if there’s another quake within days,” said Akira Wada, professor emeritus at Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Most of those who were killed had returned to their homes after the first quake.

(Additional reporting by Kwiyeon Ha; Editing by Robert Birsel)