13/11/2016 11:23 PM AEDT | Updated 14/11/2016 8:50 AM AEDT

New Zealand Recovering From Magnitude 7.5 Earthquake Near Christchurch

The big quake has killed 2 people and caused widespread damage.

AFP/Getty Images
New Zealand authorities are assessing the damage from a 7.5 earthquake that hit near Christchurch.

New Zealand is in recovery mode after a monster earthquake struck near the cities of Christchurch and Wellington, killing two people and causing thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes.

The 7.5 magnitude quake hit just after midnight local time, about 95km from Christchurch, generating a tsunami alert that forced thousands of people along the nation's east coast to leave to higher ground. The tsunami warning has since been downgraded, but threats of huge waves remain on a long stretch of South Island coast.

At least two people have been reported killed in the quake; one victim suffered a heart attack and the other died at his home in the town of Kaikoura, according to the NZ Herald.

Damage to homes and buildings has also been reported, but the full extent is still emerging, including the impact in Christchurch and the national capital Wellington where buildings and roads have been affected.

It is reported that the small North Canterbury township of Waiau is the worst impacted, with power said to be cut and phone lines down. The earthquake has reportedly torn open the roads and destroyed the main bridge in the town.

There are also reports of casualties in the east coast town of Kaikoura, north of Christchurch, but the gravity of the situation there is yet to be confirmed.

Schools from North Canterbury to Wellington are closed until damage can be assessed and residents are being told to have the day off from work in Wellington's CBD. It is also possible that NCEA exams could be suspended following the earthquake.

Prime Minister John Key said it was likely damage would be worse than currently known.

"It'll be that really structural damage that was done that initially you look at and go, 'Oh gosh that's OK', and then the engineer comes along and says, 'Now look the whole building has got to come down'," he told radio station Newstalk ZB.

Key offered his condolences to the families of the earthquake victims, saying the nation's "heart goes out to those families".

"At this point we are unable to give you precise information of what caused those fatalities," Key told reporters early Monday.

The quake's epicentre of was just 93.5km north of Christchurch, which was devastated by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in January 2011 and resulted in the deaths of 185 people.