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MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Dec. 21) – A state of emergency remains in place in the eastern New Zealand city of Gisborne following last night's earthquake.

About four blocks of the city centre remain cordoned off as well as a number of individual shops and offices.

Business owners are now assessing the damage with structural engineers.

The public will remain excluded from the area until the morning although businesses that can open, will.

Civil defence is praising people who leapt into their vehicles and left town fearing a tsunami following the quake.

A civil defence controller, Jon Davies, says Gisborne residents living within 750 metres of the shore have been warned to get to high ground in the event of an earthquake that cuts power.

Mr Davies says fortunately last night's earthquake was not that serious.

He says, "A lot of people here followed their instincts and did what they did last time.

"This time we were able to reassure them within the hour and um people streamed back into town to be able to look at any damage to their properties."

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