New Zealand’s rescuers have begun evacuating hundreds of tourists and residents from Kaikoura, a day after a strong earthquake claimed the lives of two people in the South Island town.
Four military helicopters flew into Kaikoura on Tuesday to evacuate the first group of the 1,200 tourists stranded there.
A 7.8 earthquake struck the tourist town of Kaikoura after midnight in the early hours of Monday, causing massive infrastructure damage along the country’s East Coast near Kaikoura. One person lost his life in the town and another in Mt. Lyford, a nearby ski resort.
Air Commander Darryn Webb, acting commander of New Zealand joint forces, said a naval ship was heading to the area to evacuate more people to the nearby Christchurch.
The vessel, which set off from Auckland late Monday and is expected to arrive by Wednesday, could take up to 500 people.
“We’re going to pick them up by landing craft and sea boats and extract them to Lyttelton (in Christchurch) so they can get to a point of safety,” the commanding officer of HMNZS Canterbury, Simon Rooke, said.
Prime Minister John Key, who flew over Kaikoura on Monday, described the landslides in the area as “just horrendous.”
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, left in white shirt and black top, and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, center, meet with stranded tourists and locals following an earthquake during a visit to Kaikoura, New Zealand, Nov. 14, 2016. (Photo by AP)
He said the reconstruction would likely cost billions of dollars, prioritizing getting those trapped out of the town safely and delivering much-needed supplies to the area.
“It’s more water and food, it’s more chemical toilets, it’s fixing up the road access, getting those tourists out and then ultimately the big clean-up job,” Key said.
He also expressed his concern on the impact of the quake in the area, which is known for the whale-watching cruises, on tourism.
The major earthquake was felt on the North Island, destroying a number of structures and causing power cuts.
A large fissure runs along Kaikoura Road about two hours north of Christchurch Monday, November 14, 2016, after a major earthquake struck New Zealand’s south Island early Monday. (Photo by AP)
The quake was followed by hundreds of aftershocks that along with gale-force winds and heavy rains were hindering recovery efforts.
Other emergency services were also using helicopters to drop supplies to those trapped in the town and fly out those who wanted to leave.
Officials said Japan and the US would help the country in the relief effort. Civil Defense Minister Gerry Brownlee said he had accepted a US offer to contribute two MH-60 helicopters and a Japanese military’s offer of assistance.
Life outside the main Kaikoura disaster zone was slowly getting to normal on Tuesday as roads opened and power was restored.
New Zealand lies in the seismically active “Ring of Fire” with up to 15,000 quakes, mostly minor, strike the country every year.
A less powerful earthquake of 6.3 magnitude hit Christchurch in February 2011, killing 185 people and causing massive damage to property.