Three earthquakes struck the Australian state of Victoria on Wednesday.
Tremors were felt across southeastern Australia. Buildings and roads were damaged, but, so far, no serious injuries or deaths have been reported.
The first earthquake — a magnitude 5.9 — was detected at 9:15 a.m. local time in the Alpine National Park near Mansfield in Victoria’s northeast.
Geoscience Australia, a government scientific agency, said the quake "was potentially the largest ever recorded in eastern Australia since European settlement."
Two other earthquakes — of magnitude 4.0 and 3.1 — struck in the same region shortly afterwards.
Damage and landslides have been reported in several areas, and helicopters have been dispatched to assess the impact of the earthquakes.
Reports suggested the tremors lasted about 20 seconds in Melbourne, the Victoria state capital, where apartment blocks have been evacuated.
Residents as far away as Sydney, Canberra and the island state of Tasmania said they felt tremors. Australian authorities reported no threat of a tsunami.
Speaking on an official visit to New York, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the earthquake would have been a shock for many people.
“It can be a very, very disturbing event for an earthquake of this nature. They are very rare events in Australia and as a result I am sure people would have been quite distressed and disturbed by that, particularly in the most immediate area affected. But the agencies at a state government level are there responding,” he said.
Experts warn there could be hundreds of small aftershocks, which could continue for months.
On average, 100 earthquakes are recorded in Australia each year. Most are small, around magnitude 3 or more.
In December 1989, a magnitude 5.6 earthquake hit the New South Wales city of Newcastle, north of Sydney. Thirteen people died and 160 others were injured.