A severe 6.2 magnitude earthquake that struck near Eketahuna north of Wellington today, cut power and phones, stopped trains and sent people scurrying from buildings.
The quake, at 3.52pm, was located 15 kilometres east of Eketahuna, north of Masterton, at a depth of 33 km.
More than 8000 reports of the quake being felt, from Whangarei to Invercargill, were posted on the GeoNet website .
The quake has been followed by dozens of aftershocks, the strongest magnitude 4.5 and the weakest 3.
A person in Palmerston North was treated for eye irritations and breathing difficulties after chemicals were spilled at a residential address.
Power was out in Ekatahuna and water mains burst, Steve Atkin, a resident at the Commercial Hotel told ONE News.
The quake cut power to about 5600 Powerco customers in Tararua, Manawatu and Taranaki.
Acting Network Operations Manager Dean Stevenson said early reports from the field indicated the damage was relatively minor and Powerco expected to restore supply to the majority of affected customers tonight.
Around 1600 properties remained without power at 7pm.
"We have already restored supply to the majority of customers in Tararua and Manawatu and expect to make steady progress this evening," Mr Stevenson said."
The Fire Service said it received multiple calls and alarm activations after the quake.
Among damage reported, groceries tumbled off supermarket shelves, cracks opened in driveways, chimneys came off homes, furniture toppled and belongings were tossed in houses and offices.
A ceiling partially collapsed at a basketball court in Palmerston North.
Eketahuna Community Store owner Tanmay Patel told ONE News goods dislodged from the shelves.
He said it was "super scary" and he and customers ran out onto the road because they thought shelves might come down.
He described the quake as violent shaking, unnerving and the worst he has ever felt. The lights went out for 10 minutes plus, he said.
Several householders tweeted about damage such as smashed mirrors, toppled bookshelves and cupboards emptied by the swaying.
"Pantry contents everywhere," @RDiva tweeted.
"We just had a huge earthquake!! Heaps of aftershocks, I'm so scared!" @GagasKiwiHooker tweeted.
The quake is believed to have caused a giant eagle sculpture to fall from the ceiling at Wellington Airport.
The eagle, which was installed late last year to promote the latest Hobbit movie, can be seen resting on chairs and tables at the Airport's food court in photos posted on Twitter.
Wellington Airport confirmed nobody was affected by the incident.
Trains in the lower North Island, including Wellington commuter lines, were halted as KiwiRail inspectors checked for any damage to rail tracks.
The Overlander was held at Marton and passengers completed their journey on buses.
Telecom said a spike in calls, both landline and cellphone, following the quake caused overloading on the system resulting in some calls not connecting.
The company asked people to text if possible to take some of the stress of the network and ensure the lines were free for emergency services.
The Manawatu Gorge road has been reduced to one lane by rockfalls.
New Zealand Transport Agency contractors were out checking roads around the region for damage and NZTA asked drivers to be extra careful until all highways were given the all clear.
There were rockfalls at Castle Rock, Castlepoint, near the epicentre of the quake.
Residents reported the quake as strong and long.
"Gosh felt it in Taranaki. Things were swaying in my room. Felt like it went on for a while too," Rebecca Poole posted on theONE News Facebook page.
Another Facebook post said the quake felt stronger than a magnitude 6.2.
"Was very strong here in Dannevirke! Felt much stronger than 6.2 though," posted Elianna Taylor.
Andrea Pratt in Te Awamutu said the quake lasted about 45 seconds.
"I felt it just south of Te Awamutu, it was quite strong, made my hanging plants sway," she posted.
The earthquake had farmers in the Wairarapa and Tararua District checking on their stock, staff and each other.
Coming after last year's Seddon quakes, the Eketahuna tremor has reminded many in the lower North Island that "the big one" could come at anytime.
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