The quake occurred at 12:51 p.m., during a normal workday in Christchurch, according to the US Geological Survey. The epicenter was relatively shallow –just 3 miles deep – and close, about 6 miles from the country's second largest city, where some 26,000 full-time employees work.
"Obviously this earthquake has taken place at a time where people have been going about their daily business. We're doing everything we can to make sure that people are safe and are evacuating the central city," said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, about an hour after the quake hit. After an emergency cabinet meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. local time, the prime minister is scheduled to fly to Christchurch.
The city was struck by a force 7.1 quake last September, Reuters reports, which caused serious damage and dented the national economy but caused only minor injuries.
"The quake is significantly smaller than the previous Christchurch earthquake, however it was very shallow and might have been very close to the centre of the city," Civil Defence spokesman Vince Cholewa told the Herald.
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