April 17, 2011

Rare Earthquakes Shake Australia And New Zealand

A pair of moderate earthquakes rattled Australia and New Zealand on Saturday. 

An initial quake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale struck about 80 miles southeast of the Australian coastal city of Townsville at 3.31pm local time (0531 GMT), at a depth of about 6 miles below the ocean floor, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The temblor was followed by a magnitude 5.3 aftershock that hit minutes later in Christchurch, New Zealand, which suffered a devastating magnitude 6.3 earthquake earlier this year.

No serious damage was reported from either quake, and no tsunami warning was issued.

Geoscience Australia seismologist David Jepsen said the initial quake's epicenter was about 60 kilometers west of Bowen town.

It was the strongest earthquake in Queensland since 1965.

"Fortunately this is a sparsely populated part of Queensland. We couldn't see much in the way of towns (in the quake zone), so that's a good thing," Jepsen told the AFP news agency.

Australia rarely experiences major earthquakes due to the island's distance from the boundary of the Indo-Australian tectonic plate.

According to Jepsen, quakes of a magnitude 5.5 happen statistically once a year on average, although Australia had experienced a "lull" in recent years.

Energy supplier Orion said Saturday's quake cut power to about 20,000 homes and businesses, but no other damage was reported.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported from Queensland that residents of several coastal towns and cities had felt the quake.

The magnitude-5.2 quake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand, was much less powerful than the one that devastated the city on Feb. 22, killing at least 169 people and virtually destroying the downtown area.  

Christchurch has been hit by scores of aftershocks since the February quake.


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