WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ A City Council committee had just begun discussing earthquake preparedness Thursday morning when the building began to sway.

The temblor measured 6.2 on the Richter scale and was the largest to hit New Zealand in two years. Minor damage was reported and a few people were hit by flying debris.

''If an earthquake struck now, I wouldn't even know what to do,'' Councillor Merrin Downing had said just before the quake struck at 10:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday). A few seconds later, most of the council dove under the table.

The 30-second quake was centered 19 miles southwest of Blenheim, on the South Island, and was felt up to 250 miles away, said Warwick Smith of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

Customers in a supermarket in Nelson, 75 miles west of Wellington across the Cook Straits, ducked for cover as food rained down from shelves. Bottles of ketchup smashed on the floor, and one worker was cut on the head.

Civil Defense Minister Graeme Lee said port authorities in Wellington, New Zealand's second-largest city, were testing the bottom of the harbor.

The airport underwent runway checks, and commuter trains stopped running for over an hour so workers could examine the lines.

The Richter scale is a gauge of energy released by an earthquake, as measured by the ground motion recorded on a seismograph. Every increase of one number means a tenfold increase in magnitude.

An earthquake of magnitude 6 can cause severe damage, and a 7 is capable of widespread, heavy damage in a populated area.