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Strong earthquakes shake New Zealand, no tsunami generated

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand >> Strong earthquakes shook central New Zealand on Friday (Thursday night Hawaiii time), damaging homes, destroying a bridge and sending office workers scrambling for cover in the capital.

The first quake, a magnitude-6.5, struck just after 2:30 p.m.  near the small South Island town of Seddon. It was followed by several aftershocks of magnitude 5 or stronger.

Police spokeswoman Barbara Dunn said several homes near the epicenter were severely damaged, with chimneys collapsing and roofs caving in. She said a bridge had collapsed on State Highway 1, the major route for traffic near Seddon, and that rocks and debris had fallen onto the road. Police closed a section of the highway.

There were no initial reports of injuries.

Some buildings in Wellington, the capital, were evacuated, and items were knocked off shelves in places.

Police said a number of people were freed from Wellington elevators that stopped working. The initial temblor also temporarily closed down the nation’s stock exchange. It was reopened at 3:45 p.m.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of the initial temblor was 58 miles west of Wellington at a depth of 6 miles.

Local authorities issued no tsunami warnings.

A quake of similar strength in the same area three weeks ago broke water mains, smashed windows and downed power lines.

New Zealand is part of the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire” that has regular seismic activity. A severe earthquake in the city of Christchurch in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed much of the city’s downtown.

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