The giant eagle hanging from the roof of Wellington airport to promote the Hobbit trilogy has fallen down due to the shake.
The giant eagle hanging from the roof of Wellington airport to promote the Hobbit trilogy has fallen down due to the shake. Kylie Te Moanaui

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits NZ's lower North Island

Central New Zealand has been rocked by a strong magnitude 6.3 earthquake that shook buildings in central Wellington.

The "severe'' quake struck 10km north of Castlepoint in Wairarapa at 3.52pm, GeoNet said.

It was felt as a long, rolling quake by many Herald readers which lasted about a minute.

The giant eagle hanging from the roof of Wellington airport to promote the Hobbit trilogy has fallen down due to the shake.

The Weta Workshop eagles installed at the airport each weigh 2 tonnes, have a wingspan of 15m, and were suspended from the roof by eight cables.

Greg Thomas from Wellington Airport said one of the two eagles slowly became detached during the quake and had come to rest on the floor.

He said it was still partly suspended, and no one was injured when it came down.

The quake had not caused any other damage at the airport. A runway inspection had been carried out and the airport had been cleared to continue operating.

No flights had been disrupted, he said.

Power is out in Linton, south of Palmerston North.

Inspector Mike Coleman of police central communications said there were reports of damage to houses in Eketahuna, including broken windows, collapsed walls and fallen chimneys.

However, there were no reported injuries at this stage. The number of reports of damage remained unknown.

"Obviously some houses have been damaged,'' Mr Coleman said.

"Windows have been smashed and crockery has been thrown around the place - the usual sort of movement with earthquakes.''

Mr Coleman said there were rocks and debris on roads between Woodville and Taihape due to various slips.

The Manawatu Gorge road was down to one lane, while the road between Pahiatua and Palmerston North was closed.

Bridges and roads around Eketahuna were being checked, Mr Coleman said.

Motorists in the lower North Island were urged to take care.

The centre of the quake zone
The centre of the quake zone

In Wanganui, office staff jumped under their desks when the powerful jolt struck.

A concrete power pole on Guyton St swayed in the quake and Countdown Trafalgar Square was evacuated.

The supermarket lost one bottle of wine and other items fell to the floor, but it was soon business as usual.

In Masterton initial reports showed there was little damage in shops although some crockery had been broken.

Fire Service central communications shift manager Mike Wanoa said there were no reports of major damage so far.

"We're extremely busy at the present time. We've got no reports of damage.

"The earthquake has been reasonably major in the Masterton-Eketahuna area, so we're getting multiple calls to all sorts of things at the moment, but we're right in the middle of it now.''

Electricity retailer Powershop, which has its headquarters in Masterton, tweeted that it had evacuated its call centre following the earthquake.

The company said it would continue responding to email queries as best it could.

A police communications spokesman said police had not yet received any quake-related callouts.

A spokeswoman for the Earthquake Commission (EQC) said the agency was still gathering information on the quake and the volume of calls received.

Tranz Metro said all train services in the Wellington region had been suspended due to the quake.

Anders Crofoot, owner of Castlepoint Station on the east coast of Wairarapa, said it was "the best shake we've had in 15 years''.

"Stuff off the shelves, stuff off walls, but nothing that we've come across that's too major,'' he said.

He said the shaking went on for about 40 seconds.

"I was up in the office and it was long enough to think about it and then get downstairs and outside and it was still going.''

He would now be checking the farm water supply for damage. "There's a high probability with some of these old pipes that there'll be a problem.''

Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway tweeted: "Looks like things are OK in Palmy. A few shelves have been emptied and some messes need cleaning but no major injuries so far. #eqnz''

Raumati South resident Leigh Nichols was at her beachside bach when the quake hit.

"It was huge. The noise - it was like a train going along the track. It was so noisy, everything was just rattling.''

Mrs Nichols said a wine glass smashed and DVDs spilled to the floor. Her husband David clutched a wooden statue to prevent it tumbling over.

"It was the noise that got me, not the shaking. I just stood here. I don't get frightened, I'm fascinated.''

Asked how the quake compared to the big Seddon shakes in July last year, she said: "I think it was just as bad, at least.''

Mrs Nichols was about to head to her Raumati interior design store, Furnishing Affair, to check merchandise for damage.

"If it's only things, it's only things. But gosh it was big.''

Pam Lochore, wife of All Black great Sir Brian Lochore, said photographs had fallen off shelves in the couple's Masterton living room.

The shaking also caused water in the pool to "rock side to side" and a "rugby ball went flying across the room".

Hawke's Bay Today editor Andrew Austin said the quake lasted more than a minute.

"It just went on and on, rolling. I couldn't believe it, it was incredible. Luckily we're in a stable building.''

There were reports of damage in Dannevirke but no word on injuries at this time.

The quake was felt as far north as Auckland and as far south as Dunedin.

The New Zealand Transport Agency said teams were busy checking the road network for damage but everything seems to be okay.

An office worker in Masterton described the tremor as "a good quake - one of the best''.

"It was a roll rather than a jolt. It was not very long but it was long enough - it lasted about 20 seconds.''

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