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A magnitude 5.5 quake has struck just north of Milford Sound sending small debris down mountain sides and causing significant shaking across large parts of the South Island.
GeoNet reported the "strong" quake struck at 10.35pm at a depth of 12km and was centred 20km northwest of Milford Sound.
It was earlier measured as a 6.3 magnitude quake but has since been downgraded.
Emergency Management Southland said the Milford Fire and Emergency team had been activated following the quake and were investigating, but had not yet received any reports of damage or injuries.
It has since given an update, saying "things are calming down a little in Milford - everyone a little shaken up, but OK'.
Milford Sound Infrastructure's Philip King told RNZ he could hear small debris falling off the mountains, but nothing big enough to make them worry about a tsunami.
He said they were all pretty shaken up, but the earthquake was reasonably moderate compared to what it could have been.
Mr King said the whole community was on lookout, with everybody monitoring one radio station and working as a team, and they were now on watch for aftershocks
A Queenstown resident said the shaking lasted a minute and was strong enough to knock items of shelves.
She said the quake came in two waves with the first lasting about 15 seconds, followed by a longer one which lasted about 45 seconds.
It was strong enough that she felt the need to shelter under a doorway.
"I ran for the door."
It was the strongest quake she had felt in the area since at least 2007 when a 6.7 magnitude quake struck in George Sound, Fiordland.
The quake was also felt at the Otago Daily Times office in Dunedin and in Invercargill.
A police spokeswoman said there were no reports of damage from the quake.
ODT readers reported feeling strong shaking across Otago and Southland and less than 30 minutes after it struck nearly 7000 people have reported feeling the earthquake on GeoNet.
In the 20 minutes following the shake, another four weaker earthquakes measured between magnitide 2.9 and 3.7 shook the same area, north of Milford Sound.
With RNZ and NZME