Tourists left stranded as killer quake hits hotspot
Military helicopters and a navy ship are being sent to rescue 1,000 tourists and hundreds of residents stranded in Kaikoura in New Zealand after a powerful earthquake yesterday cracked roads apart and cut off train access.
The magnitude 7.8 quake struck the South Island just after midnight.
It left two dead and triggered a small tsunami. It also brought down rocks and mud that swept across highways.
The coastal town of Kaikoura is a popular destination for travellers on whale-watching tours. But the quake knocked out water supplies and left no easy way out for holidaymakers or its 2,000 residents.
"From all directions, Kaikoura has been isolated," Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the Acting Commander of New Zealand's Joint Forces, said. "There's a real imperative to support the town because it can't support itself."
The military hoped to use four NH90 helicopters today, which can each transport 18 people at a time. A ship was due to leave Auckland last night, which could pick up hundreds more people.
"We're going to get as many people and belongings out as quickly as we can," Air Commodore Webb said.
But he warned that the weather forecast was not looking great, which meant it could take days. If that was the case, a military transport plane could drop fuel, water, food and other supplies to the town.
Strong aftershocks continued to hit New Zealand yesterday. The country was largely spared the devastation it saw in 2011, when a quake struck Christchurch and killed 185. That was one of its worst disasters, causing $25bn (€17bn) in damage.
Yesterday's quake caused damage in Wellington, the capital, and was strongly felt in Christchurch. Residents said it lasted about three minutes.
One person died in Kaikoura and another in Mt Lyford, a nearby ski resort. Police said several suffered minor injuries in Kaikoura.
Prime Minister John Key flew over the chaos by helicopter as aftershocks kicked up dust from landslides. Cars could be seen lying on their sides.
"It's just utter devastation," he said.
He estimated the clean up would run into billions of dollars and clearing the debris and roads could take months.
In Wellington, the quake collapsed a ferry-loading ramp. It also forced hundreds of tourists on to the streets as hotels were evacuated.
Police stepped up patrols after reports of burglaries in homes and businesses that had been evacuated.