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Quake rattles through region

By staff reporters

Wairarapa appears to have got off lightly from the effects of one of the country’s biggest earthquakes in decades.

Civil defence and emergency teams swung quickly into action soon after the 7.5 magnitude shake hit at 12.04am today, and have since established there were no reports of injuries or significant building or infrastructure damage throughout the entire region.

Likewise public drinking water and wastewater facilities were unscathed, and although there were power cuts in some areas, most were back in business later today apart from remote communities using temporary emergency systems.

Cracks were discovered in the road at Johnson’s Hill, near Ngawi, when South Wairarapa District Council staff checked out the district’s roading and bridge network at first light.

Council chief executive Paul Crimp said urgent measures were in place to try to seal the cracks prior to expected heavy rain arriving, as a downpour could result in much more damage occurring.

Johnson’s Hill has long been a trouble spot for the council which monitors it “pretty much daily”, Mr Crimp said.

The extent of the cracks did not bring about closure of the road.

Other than the Johnson’s Hill damage, South Wairarapa appears to have got away unscathed with no other reported damage to infrastructure.

The coastal areas were also spared the worry of a tsunami as civil defence staff received a “no threat” notification less than an hour after the big shake and did not set off warning sirens.

Mr Crimp took a special interest in the South Island quakes as he was born in Kaikoura, the worst hit area.

Glass and rubble covers the footpath on Wakefield Street, Wellington. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES
Glass and rubble covers the footpath on Wakefield Street, Wellington. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Masterton District Council engineers were also quickly on the job after the massive earthquake.

They were out of bed and checking the water treatment plant at Kaituna 20 minutes after the earthquake hit, finding no damage.

Later in the morning road engineers were dispatched to check roads and bridges throughout Masterton district, again finding no damage.

Council spokesman Sam Rossiter-Stead said staff were also utilised going door-to-door at council-owned pensioner housing.

Although the region escaped damage from the earthquake some concern is held for what could follow due to strong wind and heavy rain warnings.

Saturated soils combined with the earthquakes could cause landslips in Wairarapa.


Trains out for commuters


The earthquake also meant there were no train services running on the Wairarapa line today.

But that didn’t stop people turning up at the Featherston Station to catch the train.

South Wairarapa District Councillor Lee Carter, who is a member of the Featherston Community Response Planning Team, and Featherston Community Board chairwoman Brenda West, were at the Featherston Station from the crack of dawn, advising people of the situation.

“Even though the messages had been sent out via social media and texts saying there were no trains, it was really interesting to see people still turned up for the train,” Mrs Carter said.

“It always happens every single time.”

Mrs Carter has commuted on the train line for two decades.

“Even though there is a sign on the train station saying closed due to earthquake, it’s always really important to have a physical figure there – if they feel safe enough to be there in the building – to greet people, and to send them away comfortably so they know [what the situation is].”

She said a lot of traffic was coming and going from the station all day, and she and Mrs West painted signs “indicating no trains – so you could see them before you drove into the station”.

It is still unclear whether the Wairarapa line would be back in service tomorrow.


Power out across region


The 7.5 magnitude earthquake left about 2000 Wairarapa properties without power today.

This was among the highest number of power cuts anywhere in the country, according to Powerco.

The worst affected areas in the region were Western Lake, Featherston with 68 properties, Morisons Bush, Greytown with 253 properties, Te Ore Ore, Masterton with 28 properties, and further north in Pahiatua and Mangamutu with 161 properties.

All were expected to have power back on by about 2pm.

Dean Stevenson, Powerco manager, said the earthquake had caused powerlines to clash, triggering supply to automatically shut off.

Each affected line needed to be physically checked by field staff before the power could be turned on again, he said.

Masterton resident Keith Turner had slept through most of the quake, but remembered waking up and seeing strange lights through the closed curtains in his bedroom.

“First I thought it might have been kids shining search lights on the windows but when I got up to look there was no one outside.”

He had since read about others who had reported seeing strange lights in the sky during the massive quake.

The sightings have been linked to a phenomenon known as earthquake lights.

The lights are similar to auroras and produce a white and blue combination of colours.

They generally only appear when earthquakes have a magnitude 5.0 or higher and tend to occur around continental rifts, where vertical faults allow stress-induced electrical currents to flow rapidly to the surface, producing the phenomenon.




Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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