New Zealand’s east coast is bracing for further tsunami activity following a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck just after midnight on the country’s South Island, causing widespread damage and prompting thousands to evacuate their homes.
At least two people were killed, Prime Minister John Key announced early Monday morning.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake occurred approximately 59 miles from Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management issued a tsunami warning for the East Cape down to Southland, which includes Wellington, Marlborough Sounds, and the Chatham Islands, an archipelago about 423 miles from the mainland. Those areas can “expect a threat of coastal inundation,” the ministry said. Officials said waves reaching up to 15 feet were detected along the coastal areas closest to the earthquake’s epicenter.
Those in low-lying areas were urged to move immediately to higher ground. “The threat is real,” the ministry said. “Stay off beaches.” Aftershocks continued to roll through the area.
Christchurch was hit by a deadly quake in 2011. The city’s center was destroyed and 185 people were killed.
New Zealand sits on the Ring of Fire, a volatile horseshoe-shaped region lined with oceanic trenches, volcanoes and mountains. The seismically active area on the edge of the Pacific Ocean is home to 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes.