An Air New Zealand Plane Flies Over Mount Victoria
IN PHOTO: An Air New Zealand plane flies over houses in Mount Victoria as it approaches Wellington airport, October 7, 2011. Reuters/Marcos Brindicci

A major earthquake has struck New Zealand's South Island before 7:00 local time or 18:00 GMT near Arthur's Pass located west of Christchurch. Although there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, seismologists warn residents to prepare for the possibility of strong aftershocks.

The GeoNet advisory service of New Zealand detected the earthquake hitting north of the town of Methven at 6:48 a.m. local time. GeoNet said the earthquake's intensity was considered "severe." As of 8 a.m. local time, authorities have received more than 2,700 reports from people who felt the earthquake from as far as Mandeville to central North Island, ABC News reported.

GeoNet said there were more than 20 aftershocks recorded since the first strong earthquake. Seismologists warned of more aftershocks to follow and explained that the biggest aftershock may be in the magnitude 5 range.

Earlier reports of the New Zealand quake described it as having a magnitude of 6.4 but GeoNet revised it to 6.0. About 13 earthquakes had struck within an hour of each other. GeoNet said four of the quakes had intensities higher than magnitude 4.

Seismologists believe the earthquake may have come from a previously unknown faultline but GeoNet's John Ristau told the New Zealand Herald that similar quakes were recorded in Arthur's Pass in the past century. New Zealand lies on two tectonic plates, making it prone to seismic activity.

The New Zealand Transport Agency said it has been checking on all state highways in Canterbury and the country's West Coast for any signs of damage but officials did not find any. Some rail lines were closed as rail companies checked for any damage to infrastructure.

New Zealand sits on the edge of the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where continental plates collide causing volcanic and seismic activity. Previous reports have indicated that New Zealand experiences about 20,000 earthquakes every year with an average intensity of less than magnitude 3 to higher than 6.

About 185 people died in 2011 when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck New Zealand's Christchurch. It was considered the country's most devastating and deadliest disasters in modern times.

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