Moderate earthquake rattles New Zealand capital

A 5.3-magnitude earthquake rocked Wellington on Friday, officials said, sending office workers scrambling for cover as tower blocks swayed but no damage was reported.

The quake hit at 9:06am (2106 Thursday GMT) about 46 kilometres (28 miles) southwest of the New Zealand capital at a depth of 16 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said.

Witnesses reported tower blocks swaying and alarms going off after the tremor, which was followed by a number of aftershocks, but emergency services said there were no call outs.

"We certainly haven't had any reports of damage," a police spokesman told AFP.

Accountant Carole Burke was working in an office at the city's Westpac Stadium when the quake hit.

"It felt really rocky and it went on for a long time. I was on my knees holding onto a table," she said. "It was the strongest I've felt."

A worker at New Zealand's parliament building, known as the Beehive, said staff dived for cover.

"We were under our desks," said the woman, who did not want to be named.

Wellington lies on a major fault line and most of its office buildings have "base isolation" foundations designed to absorb the impact of a major earthquake.

A 6.3-magnitude quake hit New Zealand's second largest city of Christchurch in February 2011, flattening office blocks and toppling buildings onto lunchtime crowds, leaving 185 people dead.

The country sits on the so-called "Ring of Fire", the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, and experiences up to 15,000 tremors a year.