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Warships to help cut-off town, Wellington rocked …

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by November 15, 2016 General

A fleet of international warships is on its way to the small New Zealand town of Kaikoura to help with the rescue of hundreds of tourists and residents who are stranded following a massive earthquake.

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Helicopters start evacuating parts of New Zealand, a day after a powerful earthquake killed two people and triggered massive landslides cutting off the town of Kaikoura.

The magnitude 7.5 quake struck the north of the South Island early on Monday, killing two people, tearing the landscape, lifting the seabed by at least a metre around Kaikoura and violently shaking the capital, Wellington, more than 300 kilometres away. 

There have been more than 1500 aftershocks since Monday.

HMNZS Canterbury arrived off the coast of Kaikoura at 9am (local time). Air Commodore Darryn Webb, acting Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said the existing slipways and landing zones on the shore were being assessed to see if they were viable.

Due to the rising sea bed, “there is some risk of using the existing slipways”, he said.

Military vessels from Australia, the US and Canada will accompany New Zealand naval ships, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said in a statement.

The ships were already en route to New Zealand to take part in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations. 

Tourists trapped by the Kaikoura earthquakes arrive by military helicopters at Woodend School grounds in Christchurch on ... Tourists trapped by the Kaikoura earthquakes arrive by military helicopters at Woodend School grounds in Christchurch on Tuesday. Photo: Getty Images

“It’s heartening to see overseas partners so willing to alter their plans and offer their assistance,” Mr Brownlee said.

“Despite the changes to the planned celebrations, it’s poignant to see the anniversary marked with such co-operation and camaraderie.”

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Photos: Strong earthquake hits New Zealand South Island, tsunami warning

Pictures shared on social media showed large sections of rocky coast, covered in seaweed and abalone, apparently lifted out of the sea by the force of the quake.

The immediate focus has been getting the more than 1000 tourists out of Kaikoura, which is also in need of water, food and sanitary supplies. 

Hundreds of stranded tourists had been housed in the communal halls of the local indigenous Maori Ngai Tahu tribe and fed with crayfish.

Officials said more than 400 people had been evacuated by helicopters from the town, including a dozen with a range of injuries.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said massive landslides that buried road and rail links along the South Island’s east coast would take many months to repair.

Meanwhile, a snow warning may spell trouble for motorists on the remaining route between Christchurch and Picton, after the quake shut State Highway 1 from Kaikoura.

Wellington reels

Wellington’s CBD is unlikely to return to business as usual in the short term as assessment continues on quake-damaged buildings.

A building in central Wellington is at significant risk of collapse after the earthquake left one of its main support beams looking like a broken bone.

Emergency services rushed to evacuate nearby buildings and cordon off part of Molesworth Street, near Parliament, about 5pm on Tuesday.

Officials Wellington are to decide within days whether it would have to be brought down.

Staff from the Wellington Emergency Response team warned people away from the area. One could be heard saying, “Keep away, that building is going to come down.”

People in other buildings around the area – including a church, Rugby House and the New Zealand Red Cross headquarters – were evacuated as a precaution.

Another building, on the corner of Taranaki and Manners streets in central Wellington, suffered cracks and damage but the fire service said that there was no risk of it collapsing.

The earthquake damaged Statistics New Zealand’s headquarters so extensively that staff were told they may not be back for a year.

At least one floor is believed to have collapsed, with another floor also damaged. The full extent of the damage will not be known until inspectors go into the building, where about 500 people work.

The Bank of New Zealand building on the Wellington waterfront has also been extensively damaged.

Staff are unlikely to return to work this week as assessments continue.

As if the earthquake damage was not enough, Wellington was hit by wild weather that caused commuter chaos on Tuesday. Another storm is brewing on Wednesday as well.

Help from abroad

The Defence Minister said the New Zealand Defence Force had accepted offers of help from the US, Australia, Canada, Japan and Singapore.

Vessels in action include the USS Sampson, the first US warship to visit New Zealand in 33 years, which will deploy two MH60 helicopters.

Until an agreement reached last month, US military ships had been prevented from visiting New Zealand due to the country’s nuclear-free stance adopted in the 1980s.

Australian has diverted the HMAS Darwin, which will use its Seahawk helicopter from offshore, while Canada is sending the HMCS Vancouver.

They will join New Zealand’s HMNZS Canterbury, HMNZS Wellington, HMNZS Te Kaha and tanker ship HMNZS Endeavour.

Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, is still recovering from a 6.3 magnitude quake in 2011 that killed 185 people.

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.

Stuff.co.nz, Bloomberg, Reuters 

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