The Alpine Fault line, which runs 310 miles (500km) up the western side of the South Island, has historically produced a powerful 8.1 magnitude earthquake roughly every three centuries, with the last shift hitting in 1717.
Scientists at the Bureau of Meteorology, based in Melbourne, said the earthquake could therefore hit this year.
If the earthquake hit tomorrow, more than 100,000 people could be cut off from mainland New Zealand and up to 120 highways would be disrupted or destroyed by the quake, scientists estimated after studying data from the Kaikoura quake in 2016.
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