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New Zealand's North Island hit by strong earthquake; 'Hobbit' sculpture falls

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
January 20, 2014 -- Updated 1728 GMT (0128 HKT)
Workers secure a giant eagle sculpture after it fell from the roof of Wellington Airport during a 6.2-magnitude earthquake.
Workers secure a giant eagle sculpture after it fell from the roof of Wellington Airport during a 6.2-magnitude earthquake.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The quake brings giant eagle sculpture hanging in an airport down to the floor
  • Thousands of people lose power and trains are suspended
  • The 6.2-magnitude quake hits about 110 kilometers northeast of the capital
  • There are no immediate reports of casualties

(CNN) -- A strong earthquake shook the lower part of New Zealand's North Island on Monday, rattling buildings and knocking out power for thousands of people.

It also caused a giant, hanging sculpture of an eagle that evokes a scene from "The Hobbit" to fall to the ground in one of the country's main airports.

The 6.2-magnitude quake's epicenter was about 110 kilometers (70 miles) northeast of Wellington, the country's capital, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Initially estimated at magnitude 6.3, the earthquake hit at a depth of about 28 kilometers (17 miles), the agency said.

It struck the earthquake-prone country just before 4 p.m. and was followed by a series of weaker aftershocks.

There were no immediate reports of casualties. But the quake cut off electricity for about 5,600 people in the mainly rural region north of Wellington, said energy network operator Powerco.

All trains on the rail network in the lower part of the North Island were halted while inspectors checked tracks for damage, the state-owned transportation company KiwiRail said. Falling rocks were also reported on some roads.

Measuring the magnitude of earthquakes

Giant eagle brought down

The earthquake was felt at Wellington Airport, where it shook a sculpture of a great eagle loose from some of its suspending lines, bringing it sinking down to the floor of the main terminal building.

The bird is one of two huge eagle sculptures, installed in the terminal building last month, that draw their inspiration from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," the second part of a trilogy of movies filmed in New Zealand.

One of the roughly one-ton birds has a model of the movie character Gandalf, a wizard, riding on its back. But it was the other eagle that was brought down to earth by the quake, said Greg Thomas, a spokesman for the airport.

The area around the eagles has been cordoned off, he said.

New Zealand's tourism industry has benefited from and sought to capitalize on the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" movies, which were adapted from the J.R.R. Tolkien books and filmed against the backdrop of some of the country's striking landscapes.

Investigation planned

Photos posted on social media Monday showed the fallen eagle's wings, which measure 15 meters across, spread over part of a food counter in the airport. Its talons are resting on a table and chairs, but its head, still attached to its suspension, is reaching up to the ceiling.

Thomas said nobody was hurt by the giant bird, which swayed for some time during the earthquake before coming slowly down to the floor.

It will now be removed and a "thorough investigation" will be held, the airport said. Gandalf and his eagle will be further secured before the area underneath them is reopened.

Flights at the airport were unaffected by the quake, Thomas said.

'Ring of fire'

Some residents of the region reported on social media that furniture in their homes had suffered damage, CNN affiliate TVNZ reported.

New Zealand sits at the southwestern edge of the Pacific "ring of fire," an area of high seismic and volcanic activity that stretches up through Japan, across to Alaska and down the west coasts of North and South America.

In February 2011, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake toppled buildings in the South Island city of Christchurch, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand.

New Zealand in 2011: The deadly scene after a strong earthquake

What we've learned since '94 Northridge quake in California

The Fast Facts on earthquakes

CNN's Judy Kwon contributed to this report.

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