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Two dead after NZ quake, residents flee tsunami
By Chris FOLEY
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Nov 13, 2016

New Zealand PM cancels Argentina trip after quake
Wellington (AFP) Nov 13, 2016 - New Zealand Prime Minister John Key cancelled a trip to Argentina Monday after a powerful 7.8 earthquake rocked his South Pacific nation, but still hopes to attend an APEC summit in Peru.

Key was scheduled to travel to Buenos Aires on Tuesday on a trade mission but said he wanted to stay at home until the scale of the quake's destruction was known.

"The situation is still unfolding and we don't yet know the full extent of the damage," said the New Zealand leader, who has confirmed at least two quake-related deaths.

"I believe it is better that I remain in New Zealand in the coming days to offer my assistance and support until we have a better understanding of the event's full impact."

New Zealand officials have apologised to their Argentinian counterparts and Key said he would personally call President Mauricio Macri to explain the situation.

He added that he would still attend the November 19-20 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Lima "if circumstances permit".

The jolt early Monday was one of the most powerful recorded in quake-prone New Zealand but Key said its impact appeared far less than a 2011 temblor in Christchurch that killed 185 people.

"Purely on the Richter scale, this thing has been bigger than what we saw in the Christchurch quake, but thankfully the loss of life, at this point, is significantly less," he told Sky News.

6.2-magnitude quake shakes northwestern Argentina
Washington (AFP) Nov 13, 2016 - A strong 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit northwestern Argentina Sunday, the US Geological Survey said, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The quake, at a depth of 62 miles (100 kilometers), struck shortly after 1400 GMT about 16 miles north of the city Chilecito in the South American nation's La Rioja province.

Villagers reported that the movement was felt in the neighboring provinces of Catamarca, Tucuman and Cordoba.

The country's seismic authority also reported three smaller earthquakes Sunday.

The quake near the border with Chile follows a 6.4-magnitude earthquake of "great intensity" earlier this month in central Chile.

That earthquake shook buildings in the capital Santiago, causing panic among residents, whose frantic phone calls clogged cellular networks and land lines, AFP correspondents said.

Rescuers in New Zealand were scrambling Monday to reach the epicentre of a powerful 7.8 earthquake that killed at least two people and sparked a tsunami alert that sent thousands fleeing for higher ground.

The jolt, one of the most powerful ever recorded in the quake-prone South Pacific nation, hit just after midnight Monday near the South Island coastal town of Kaikoura.

As dawn broke there was scant information from many nearby rural villages, which were isolated by landslips and fractured telephone communications as strong aftershocks continued.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed two people had died and said "we cannot rule out" that number will rise.

Police were trying to reach the scene of one fatality at a remote property 150 kilometres (93 miles) north of Christchurch while another person died in a historic homestead which collapsed at Kaikoura.

"At this point we are unable to give precise details of what caused those fatalities," Key said, adding that communication problems made it difficult to give an accurate assessment.

With roads blocked, a helicopter was taking a search and rescue team to Kaikoura, where aerial television footage showed huge landslips and at least one home destroyed.

Key said military choppers had also been drafted in check the scale of destruction.

"As soon as we can get a much better assessment of the actual damage then we can work out the next steps," he said

Soon after the earthquake, tsunami warning sirens were activated in South Island coastal towns and along the east coast of the North Island, with police and emergency workers going door to door to evacuate seaside properties.

The ministry of civil defence, responsible for emergency management in New Zealand, initially warned of a "destructive tsunami" with waves of up to five metres (16 feet).

The first waves were measured around two metres and four hours later authorities downgraded the warning, but said risks remained.

The earthquake struck at 12:02am Monday (1102 GMT Sunday) and was 23 kilometres deep, the US Geological Survey said, putting the epicentre in the South Island's North Canterbury region.

It ignited painful memories for residents in nearby Christchurch, which was devastated five years ago by a 6.3 tremor which killed 185 people.

"It was massive and really long," Tamsin Edensor, a mother of two in Christchurch, told AFP, describing the powerful quake as the biggest since the 2011 tremor which was one of New Zealand's deadliest disasters.

"We were asleep and woken to the house shaking, it kept going and going and felt like it was going to build up."

Earthquake engineer Ken Elwood from the University of Auckland said the impact of the latest quake would have been much worse had it hit at lunchtime, like the Christchurch one.

"When it happens in the middle of the day it's a very different story," he told TVNZ.

"People were safe in their homes, homes might get damaged but they're safer for the people inside and that's certainly the blessing of this earthquake."

The main tremor was followed by a series of strong aftershocks, with reports of damaged houses.

- 'Significant shake' -

Marie Black, a local councillor who lives about 50 kilometres north of Christchurch, told the New Zealand Herald there were reports of damage to buildings in the North Canterbury region.

"It was a significant shake, I have felt several aftershocks and it is very unnerving," she said.

In the capital Wellington, where shattered glass littered inner city streets, rail and bus services were cancelled and people were advised not to commute to work Monday.

Wellington resident Kevin Simonsen, 72, said he had never experienced such a strong quake.

"It was a rolling motion, very violent," he told AFP. "It just went on and on. You could hear the building creak. It was quite scary and eerie."

Mount Victoria, the city's highest point, was choked with cars in the early hours as residents from low-lying areas sought refuge from a possible tsunami.

"I just packed up my kids and went up to my mum's," Kylie Goodman said.

In several cities guests were forced to evacuate hotels when the quake hit, including Nelson, about 200 kilometres from the quake centre where the touring Pakistan cricket team are staying.

"Some of the boys were in prayer, some were watching the India-England Test on TV when we felt the windows shake," team manager Wasim Bari told ESPNcricinfo.

New Zealand is on the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, which form part of the so-called "Ring of Fire", and experiences up to 15,000 tremors a year.

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