Tuesday, 15 November 2016

NEW ZEALAND: Army And Emergency Services Evacuate Tourists From Kaikoura

New Zealand emergency services and defence personnel have begun evacuating hundreds of tourists and residents from the South Island town of Kaikoura, a day after a powerful earthquake hit the region, killing two people.

The magnitude-7.8 tremor, which struck just after midnight on Sunday, destroyed historic farm homesteads, sent glass and masonry toppling from high rises in the capital Wellington and cut road and rail links throughout the north-east of the South Island.

Kaikoura, a popular base for whale-watching about 150 kilometres north-east of Christchurch and near the epicentre, was completely cut off by massive landslips.

Four defence force helicopters flew into the town and the Navy's multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury was heading to the area, Air Commander Darryn Webb, the acting commander of New Zealand joint forces, said.

"The priority today is the airlift operation," he said.

"We're looking to do as many flights as we can out of Kaikoura today around about four flights, to move approximately 200 of those tourists and residents south."

Around 1,200 tourists were stranded in the town, officials said.

Gale-force winds and rain were hampering recovery efforts, and hundreds of aftershocks continued to rock the region.

Prime Minister John Key flew over Kaikoura on Monday and described the landslips in the mountainous area as "just horrendous". The repair bill was likely to run into billions of dollars, Mr Key said.

Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said restoring water supplies and getting food into Kaikoura were the main priorities, while clearing road access would take some time.

"The road north is going to be quite a challenge for quite some time," he said.

New Zealand rugby great Richie McCaw has reportedly also been helping rescue efforts by flying emergency service personnel to Kaikoura.

"From there, we took the Fire Service just north and south of Kaikoura to check out all the slips and make sure everyone was accounted for," said.

Hundreds of homes remained without power and telecommunications, with huge cracks in roads, land slips and other damage to infrastructure making it hard to reach the worst-affected areas.

Workers returned to office buildings in Wellington's business district, which was closed off on Monday while the city council assessed the risk to buildings, several of which were damaged by the tremor. Many businesses told staff to work from home.

New Zealand's GeoNet measured Monday's main quake at magnitude-7.5, while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.8.

New Zealand lies in the seismically active "Ring of Fire", a 40,000-kilometre arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that encircles much of the Pacific Ocean. Around 90 per cent of the world's earthquakes occur in this region.