Two dead as huge earthquake strikes New Zealand, triggering tsunami warnings

People wait in Te Aro Park after being evacuated from nearby buildings following an earthquake on November 14, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Two people have died following a massive 7.6-magnitude earthquake that struck New Zealand’s south island.

“On the best information we have there’s been two fatalities. At this point we’re unable to give you precise information on what caused those fatalities,” prime minister John Key said.

“We think it’s only likely to be two – there are isolated parts of the country that we don’t have perfect eyes on so we can’t be 100 per cent sure.”

The quake was widely felt in both the South and North Islands, as far north as Auckland, causing damage and knocking out power as well as triggering tsunami alerts.

Evacuation sirens sounded in some towns with authorities warning to be on the lookout for waves up to five metres high.

The warnings have now been downgraded.

Police earlier said they were trying to access a property north of Christchurch where a person was believed to have died.

The Fire Service was also searching for a person who was believed to be missing after a homestead collapsed in Kaikoura. One person had been found alive in the rubble.

The Christchurch Fire Service was sending a special task force to the historic Elm Homestead at first light.

A 7-person Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) squad was en route to Kaikoura from Christchurch by helicopter.

Assessment teams were travelling to Waiau and Blenheim.

Key was due to fly out to Argentina on Tuesday en route to APEC in Peru.

A decision hasn’t been made about whether he will cancel his plans but it’s possible the Argentina leg of the trip will be cancelled.

Key said he was in bed at Premier House in Wellington with his wife, Bronagh, when the quake struck.

“It went on for so long – we eventually did start moving at a point.

“It was a very significant shock. It started…a little more slowly….but then it started building in its intensity. You’ll appreciate Premier House was built a long time ago so it’s a structure that rattles around.

“There’s some glasses broken and the room started moving around a lot,” he said.

“I know from the Christchurch earthquakes how much it undermines people’s confidence.”

He expected there to be a lot of damage with core infrastructure and roads, which would be a cost but would be covered.

Key thanked emergency services around the country for their efforts overnight.

A spokesman for the Fire Service said more information would be released through Twitter later in the morning.

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