New Zealand plans rescue of tourists stranded by earthquake

2016-11-14 13:20
A landslide blocks State Highway One and the main railway line north of Kaikoura following an earthquake in New Zealand. (Mark Mitchell, New Zealand Herald, AP)

A landslide blocks State Highway One and the main railway line north of Kaikoura following an earthquake in New Zealand. (Mark Mitchell, New Zealand Herald, AP)

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Wellington - New Zealand is planning to send in military helicopters and a navy ship to rescue about 1 000 tourists and hundreds of residents who remain stranded in the coastal town of Kaikoura after a powerful earthquake on Monday cut off train and vehicle access.

The magnitude-7.8 quake struck the South Island just after 00:00. It left two people dead and triggered a small tsunami. It also brought down rocks and mud that swept across highways and cracked apart roads.

Home to about 2 000 residents, Kaikoura is a popular destination for travellers taking part in whale-watching expeditions or wanting a stopover with mountain views.

But the quake knocked out water supplies and sewerage systems and left people with no easy way out.

"From all directions, Kaikoura has essentially been isolated," said Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the Acting Commander of New Zealand's Joint Forces. "There's a real imperative to support the town because it can't support itself."

Webb said the military planned to begin using four NH90 helicopters on Tuesday that could each transport about 18 people out of the town at a time. He said a ship was also leaving Auckland on Monday night that could potentially pick up hundreds of people if weather conditions allowed.

"We're going to get as many people and belongings out as quickly as we can," Webb said.

Strong aftershocks

READ: 'Utter devastation' after quake - New Zealand PM

He said the weather forecast wasn't looking great and the operation could take several days. He said that if needed, a C-130 military transport plane could drop fuel, water, food and other supplies to the town.

Elsewhere, strong aftershocks continued to shake New Zealand on Monday, rattling the nerves of exhausted residents.

The country was largely spared the devastation it saw in 2011 when an earthquake struck the city of Christchurch and killed 185 people. That quake was one of New Zealand's worst disasters, causing an estimated $25bn in damage.

Monday's quake caused damage in Wellington, the capital, and was also strongly felt in Christchurch. Residents said the shaking went on for about three minutes.

Police said one person died in Kaikoura and another in Mt Lyford, a nearby ski resort. Several other people sustained minor injuries in Kaikoura, said police spokesperson Rachel Purdom.

Prime Minister John Key flew over the destruction in Kaikoura by helicopter as aftershocks kicked up dust from the landslides below. Cars could be seen lying on their sides and parts of the road were clearly impassable.

"It's just utter devastation," Key said.

He later toured the area and met with locals. He estimated the clean-up effort would run into the billions of dollars and said clearing the debris and blocked roads could take months.

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Read more on:    new zealand  |  earthquakes

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