Canterbury September 2010 earthquake: A look back at how the world reacted a decade on

The 2010 Canterbury earthquake, which struck a decade ago on Friday, shocked New Zealand and made headlines around the world.

Homes were destroyed and others left uninhabitable after the magnitude 7.1 hit at 4:34am on September 4, 2010.

It struck south-east of Darfield - about 40 kilometres west of Christchurch.

TV3, local and global news reports in the aftermath of the quake showed roads and homes torn apart, extensive liquefaction, and widespread damage across Christchurch city and wider Canterbury.

While no-one was killed in the quake, it sparked many large aftershocks including the devastating 6.3 Canterbury earthquake in 2011, which killed 185 people.

News of the September quake spread across the world, with the ABC in the US calling it a "major natural disaster" and it was "miraculous" no-one was killed.

Canterbury September 2010 earthquake: A look back at how the world reacted a decade on
Photo credit: Reuters

The station's Good Morning America programme described it as a "powerful" earthquake that damaged "hundreds" of buildings, "crumpled" at least six bridges, and "twisted" railroads.

Mike McRoberts, then 3 News, now Newshub presenter, told SBS Australia in front of some of the destruction: "There's still plenty of work to be done over the next couple of days".

Channel 10 in Australia also reported on the incident, along with 7 News which said: "New Zealand's South Island has been rocked by one of the biggest earthquakes to hit the region in 80 years".

Speaking from Christchurch after the quake, TVNZ presenter Simon Dallow told 10 News: "We have, in various parts of the city, [the] sewerage system is out. We have pockets where there is no electricity, we have pockets where there is no water".  

One New Zealander spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation after flying to Sydney to see her daughter following the quake. "It was something I'll never forget", she said.

The Australian state broadcaster said the quake caused widespread damage, "toppling buildings, cutting power, and rupturing water and sewerage mains".

"Everywhere you look, every corner you go to, you see piles of rubble," TVNZ reporter Melissa Stokes told the news station. "I've seen a brick wall collapse [and] chimney's off houses."

Sky News in the UK said, citing authorities, "one of New Zealand's biggest cities" was under a state of emergency and two had been seriously injured.

The US' Fox News reported that police had "shut down the streets" following the quake.


While no-one was killed in the September quake the large aftershocks resulted in long-lasting damage, including the devastating 6.3 Canterbury earthquake in 2011, which took 185 lives.

Since the deadly February quake, much has been repaired, rebuilt, and created -  though the huge tract of red-zone land will take years to transform.

September was a wake-up call for seismologists - and saw a range of new quake modelling and mapping tools developed.

"The September 4 Darfield earthquake ushered in a bittersweet decade in New Zealand earthquake geology," said Dr Tim Stahl, a senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury's School of Earth and Environment.

"Geologists around the world have learned an immense amount from the Canterbury and Kaikōura earthquake sequences – and in many ways New Zealand scientists are now viewed as global leaders.

"We have a more resilient city and nation for having gone through the pain of the Canterbury earthquakes – all sparked by the rupture of an unknown fault under the Canterbury Plains that hadn’t previously moved for the last 30,000 years."

Prominent landmarks are lighting up green to mark the anniversary - symbolising growth and renewal. Christchurch City Mayor Lianne Dalziel told Newshub it's hard to believe a decade has passed since the devastating sequence of quakes.

"I know there are others that will feel exactly the same way," she said.