New Zealand earthquake - November 2016

This page contains a summary of the earthquake, exclusive personal accounts, links to further information, video clips and enquiry questions.

Summary

Just after midnight on 14 November, 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand’s South Island 55 miles north east of Christchurch.

This was followed by a 6.8 magnitude aftershock later that day, one of 313 aftershocks recorded within 13 hours by Geonet, New Zealand's national earthquake service.

Two people have died, damage is estimated at $2 billion by the government and tens of thousands of landslides have been recorded.

The coastal town of Kaikoura and its 2000 residents as well as the smaller township of Waiau were worst affected, cut off by road due to landslides and without power or phone lines. A gauge in the town measured a wave over 8ft tall as a tsunami hit the east coast after the initial quake.

New Zealand lies in the Ring of Fire (see diagram at the bottom of this BBC News page), a seismically active 40,000km arc of volcanoes and trenches in the Pacific Ocean, where approximately 90% of the world’s volcanoes occur.

The earthquakes were caused by one plate moving on top of the other at an ‘oblique-reverse’ fault, after a sudden release in pressure from the Pacific and Australian plates moving towards one another.

Christchurch is still recovering from the 2011 earthquake which killed 185 people, mainly due to the collapse of two large buildings, and destroyed the city centre.

Personal accounts

John Paul Jones is a British national who moved to the South Island of New Zealand in 2016.

How did the quake affect you, your family, friends and community?
It woke me up and I had no power for approximately one hour. A lot of the shops were closed in town, some had broken stock from items vibrating off shelves. The main delivery highway from Christchurch (Highway 1) was closed and only two of the main supermarkets were open which sold out of bread and milk.

What were you thoughts when the quake was happening and afterwards?
The quake woke me up and I was alone in the house. It was very disorientating and difficult to stand up. When you’re on a boat and it sways it makes sense, but when you’re in your house and it sways (and you’re not accustomed to it) your head can’t quite compute what’s going on. The surest thing we have is the ground under our feet then all of a sudden it’s not. Since then we have had over 1000 quakes some in the 5.5 order of magnitude so we are accustomed to it and our head can rationalise the sensation that we can now sail these “ground waves”. (*1953 earth quakes in the three days since the big one)

'I was worried about my girl Ali who’s a doctor working in the local hospital. She was looking after a very sick baby at the time and herself and two consultants had to perform their work under a table while the quake was in full flow.'

What did you see, hear and feel when it happened? Were you scared?
I could see and hear the whole house shaking, the doors swaying and creaking loudly, things smashing in the kitchen, water pipes in the bathroom filling the toilet (it lost water due to the ferocity of the shake). There were a few flashing lights which I’m not sure were the electrics or the lights associated with the quake. It got the heart rate going but I wasn’t worried about the house falling as it’s a one storey timber framed thin roof affair but I was scared for other people in our community and the country as I knew the quake was big enough to flatten some buildings. I was also worried about my girl Ali who’s a doctor working in the local hospital. She was looking after a very sick baby at the time and herself and two consultants had to perform their work under a table while the quake was in full flow. Fortunately the hospital is earthquake resistant.

Have you felt any aftershocks?
All the time. There have been nearly two thousand since the main quake.

Did you feel supported after the quake by the authorities and local community? How were you helped and what has happened since?
I felt massively supported. Straight away the local community fired up and we received phone calls from people we have literally just met, just checking in to see if we were ok. The next day in town many shops and bars were open and people were chatting about their experience etc. GeoNet was giving constant updates and was very reassuring about the whole situation.

Was this the first earthquake you’ve ever felt? Was it how you imagined it could be?
It was the first earthquake and it was what I thought it would be like, apart from the disorientation.

I know you weren’t living in NZ during the 2011 quake, but have other people mentioned it? How have both quakes been compared to one another?
Not really but I’m aware the one in 2011 had more of a vibrating feel to it and this was more of a sway. There was a lot less damage from this quake despite it being higher magnitude than the one in 2011.

 

Gavin Farley is a British national who moved to Rangiora, New Zealand in 2015. Here is his Facebook post from 14 November:

The past 24hours have been pretty eventful as I'm sure you’re aware!!!! However we are all fine... Yes it was pretty scary being woken up around midnight with the shake which seemed to go on for ages... That however wasn't as scary as being woken again around 2:00am with the news a Tsunami warning had been issued and we were advised to head inland... I was sceptical as to whether to leave, but we did... When we got on the road the gravity of the situation became clearer as we followed a convoy of cars away from the coast and towards higher ground... But no Tsunami occurred and we made our way to Lucy's sisters in Oxford where we spent the remainder of the night. There has been no major damage to our immediate area as far as I'm aware an Lucy and I have both been to work today and in true NZ spirit it's been business as usual... We are all pretty tired as had very little sleep so will be off to bed soon!!!!

'I've felt quakes before but this was the first one I'd actually 'seen'. By that I mean could actually see things moving including the house.'

Follow up

Describe your experience of the earthquake and how it has affected you and those around you.
I've felt quakes before but this was the first one I'd actually 'seen'. By that I mean could actually see things moving including the house... It was pretty surreal but after it had finished I just went back to sleep, then I got a call around 2am from a friend saying a Tsunami warning had been issued. I didn't really understand the gravity of this until we hit the road and saw heaps of cars heading in-land and then I knew this was for real! So we drove to my wife's sister place at Oxford which is 400+ metres above sea level and stayed there. However the next day I was back at work and it was 'business as usual', which brings me to answer one of your questions; the quake hasn't really affected me or any of my family or friends much, only my boss as he has a property in Kaikoura so was obviously concerned. He has managed to get up there but then there was a big aftershock and he's been stuck up there since. Apart from that down here it's almost like it never happened!

 

Sara McPherson is a British national who is currently living in Wellington. Two weeks after the quake she reflects on her experiences.

How did the quake affect you, your family, friends and community?
Well nobody went to work the day after the quake. We had been warned to stay out of the city centre as a lot of broken glass and debris had fallen from buildings. Public transport wasn't running and all of the shops apart from supermarkets were closed. Many office buildings in Wellington were badly damaged, some are still closed and others are being pulled down or are having major repairs done before they are safe for staff to return to work. We weren't allowed back into the building I work in for a week and a half as several pipes had burst and there was a lot of IT repair work to be done.

What were you thoughts when the quake was happening and afterwards?
I was just dropping off to sleep when the quake happened and it took me a few seconds to realise what was going on. However as soon as I did and as the shaking got worse, panic set in. I was absolutely terrified and it took several hours (and several cups of tea!) before I felt anywhere near calm afterwards. It's the first time I've ever felt so out of control of what was happening around me and it was a very different kind of fear to anything else I'd experienced before. I sat up for hours after my housemates had gone back to bed, watching people on the street and listening to the nonstop sound of sirens and reading the tsunami warnings. Luckily, although I live near the centre of Wellington, our road is quite high up so we weren't in the tsunami risk zone. When I eventually did go back to bed there were aftershocks every couple of minutes and I was rigid with fear, worrying that any one of them could turn into another big quake. I didn't get very much sleep!

'I love NZ and living in Wellington but it's made me feel very unsafe and unprepared. I find myself wondering ‘what would happen if an earthquake hit right now?’ when I'm out and about. Next time we might not be so lucky.'

What did you see, hear and feel when it happened? Were you scared?
I was really scared (the thought ‘I'm going to die in this house’ entered my head more than once). This earthquake was a lot bigger than anything I'd felt before. My whole room was shaking violently and I struggled to walk as I got up to leave my bedroom. All I really remember sound-wise is just a very loud rumble as our house continued to move. I also felt completely useless because I didn't have a clue what to do. If nothing else the quake has definitely made people realise how unprepared they are!

Have you felt many aftershocks?
Yes, I've felt countless aftershocks. And countless imaginary ones! For a good week or so afterwards I constantly felt like the ground was shaking and became fairly obsessed with having a glass of water with me so I could check if it was moving. Checking the Geonet website on a very regular basis has also become a habit. I think the worst ones I've felt were a couple of days after the quake. I was in the cinema with a friend when two big aftershocks struck, which was pretty unnerving. We also had very stormy weather for a few days following the quake so at times you didn't know if the house was moving because of an aftershock or because of the gales blowing outside!

Did you feel supported after the quake by the authorities and local community? How were you helped and what has happened since?
I felt very supported in the sense that there was a lot of information, all the time. Facebook, Geonet and the TV/radio coverage was amazing and always up to date. My workplace has also been very supportive. Our first day back was quite nerve racking knowing how much damage had been done by the building moving and worrying about more earthquakes happening (which we were being warned could potentially happen). There were also counsellors on site for staff to speak to. Lots of people have been keen to ask how I found the quake given that I'm from the UK and not used to them!

How is the cleanup going?
Aside from the buildings that are still closed and cordoned off, things are feeling like they're getting back to normal. There are still lots of large cracks in the roads and pavements but these are slowly being fixed. They're currently pulling down a building (61 Molesworth Street - in case you want to look it up) near my work and we have a great view of it from my office so we're all quite excited to watch that happen over the next couple of weeks!

Was this the first earthquake you’ve ever felt? Was it how you imagined it would be?
I've felt several smaller earthquakes before that were over and done with before you really knew what was happening but this one was very different because of the strength and length of time it went on for. The novelty I used to feel about earthquakes has well and truly worn off!

Has the quake changed how you feel about living in NZ?
Honestly, yes. I love NZ and living in Wellington but it's made me feel very unsafe and unprepared. I find myself wondering ‘what would happen if an earthquake hit right now?’ when I'm out and about all of the time. It's just such a horrible thought that it could happen again at any point. Next time we might not be so lucky that it hits at a time when most people are at home in bed and relatively safe rather than walking along streets lined with high-rise buildings, at work or on the roads.

I know you weren’t living in NZ during the 2011 quake, but have other people mentioned it? How have both quakes been compared to one another?
Earlier in the year while travelling I met some people who had experienced the Christchurch quake and had been greatly affected by it. I think again, timing had a lot to do with that quake being so bad. A lot of the fatalities were to do with crumbling/falling buildings and tragically it happened in the daytime when people were out and about or at work.

Links

Initial earthquake damage and response

New Zealand earthquake latest: Two confirmed dead after 7.8 magnitude tremors on South Island – includes gallery and video clip, Independent.

New Zealand earthquake: Two dead following powerful tremor – includes photos of the damage and maps, BBC.

'Utter devastation' after major quake, aftershocks hit New Zealand – includes a video showing the damage, Reuters.

New Zealand earthquake triggers tsunami up to 15ft high - includes evacuation zone maps, government advice to residents, Metro.

Live: 7.5 magnitude earthquake strikes near Hanmer Springs in South Island - two killed, Kaikoura isolated, Wellington CBD damaged – includes videos, photos and facts and figures, New Zealand Herald.

Earthquake: Two die after massive tremors – includes video of Prime Minister John Key media conference, Radio New Zealand.

Aftershocks and secondary impacts

New Zealand quake: The cut-off tourist town of Kaikoura - economical impacts of the earthquake, BBC News.

The aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude quake so far - earthquake timeline showing local impacts, and photos and tweets, Radio New Zealand.

'Like living on a waking dragon': New Zealanders count cost of earthquake, The Guardian.

New Zealand: Dozens of aftershocks follow deadly earthquake, CNN.

NZ earthquake: what you need to know – facts and figures about the earthquake and the damage caused, New Zealand Herald.

Earthquake: In pictures, Radio New Zealand.

‘Kiwis are a unique type of tough’: a note from GeoNet’s director on responding to the monster quake, The Spinoff.

Bad weather follows New Zealand's 7.5 magnitude quake, Radio New Zealand.

Geological explanations

How did New Zealand's earthquake happen? Was it two quakes in one? The Guardian.

Christchurch Quake Map – Models and information showing the frequency of all earthquakes that have struck Christchurch, useful for mapping the exact localities of the quakes, Christchurch Quake Map.

This stunning map shows that six faults – at least six – ruptured in the big Kaikoura quake, The Spinoff.

Other

Can you earthquake-proof a city? The Guardian.

Video clips

Enquiry questions

  1. Watch the video clips and browse some of the articles linked above, paying attention to the photos. Describe what you see.
  2. How do you think local residents felt during and after the earthquake?
  3. How do the personal accounts above compare to the media reports?
  4. Using resources make a case study file describing the causes of the earthquake, the short-term and long-term impacts and the local, national and international responses.
  5. How would residents feel after experiencing a major earthquake just five years ago?
  6. Produce a news report on the 2016 earthquake and tsunami for print or TV. Include key details (where, how, when, what, who) and geographical causes of the earthquakes. You could also include interviews with residents and authorities.
  7. Explain the significance of the time of day the earthquake struck in relation to the death toll.
  8. Why was the death toll so much lower than that of the 2011 February earthquake, despite it being less powerful? Refer to our 2011 case study page, especially the teaching resource download. Consider the exact locations, time of day and depth of each earthquake.
  9. Compare and contrast this earthquake with a recent less economically secure country such as Ecuador (view our case study page).

The GA would like to thank the Secondary Phase Committee and interviewees for their contribution.

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