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New Zealand plans evacuation of tourists stranded by earthquake

15 November 2016 08:12

The damage to a state highway near Kaikoura, New Zealand after a powerful earthquake

The damage to a state highway near Kaikoura, New Zealand after a powerful earthquake

New Zealand is planning to send in military helicopters and a navy ship to rescue about 1,000 tourists and hundreds of residents who are stranded in the coastal town of Kaikoura after a powerful earthquake cut off access.

The magnitude-7.8 quake struck the South Island just after midnight. 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.

Water and sewage systems damaged

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," 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."

Evacuation planned

Mr Webb says the military plan to begin using four NH90 helicopters on Tuesday that could each transport about 18 people out of the town at a time.

He says a ship is also leaving Auckland on Monday night that could potentially pick up hundreds of people if weather conditions allow.

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

However he warns bad weather have been forecast and the operation could take several days.

He says that if needed, a C-130 military transport plane could drop fuel, water, food and other supplies to the town.

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

In Wellington,the quake forced hundreds of tourists onto the streets as hotels were evacuated.

Officials said some large buildings were showing signs of structural stress. The city's rail network was shut while crews checked tracks, bridges and tunnels.

Holidaymakers should take out travel insurance while visiting the country to protect themselves against any problems they may encounter during their trip.