Two dead as huge quake causes ‘utter devastation’
A POWERFUL 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed two people and caused “utter devastation” in New Zealand yesterday, with wild weather hampering rescue efforts.
The tremor, one of the most powerful ever recorded in the quake-prone South Pacific nation, hit just after midnight near the South Island seaside tourist town of Kaikoura.
It triggered a tsunami alert that sent thousands of coastal residents fleeing for higher ground across much of the country.
Kaikoura, a town of about 2000 people popular with international backpackers, was completely isolated, with telecommunications down and huge landslides cutting all access roads.
Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said rescuers had to travel in by helicopter to slowly build up a clear picture of the damage.
Mr Brownlee and Prime Minister John Key flew over the affected area in a military helicopter.
“It’s just utter devastation ... months of (repair) work,” Mr Key remarked as he surveyed the landslips that dumped hundreds of tonnes of rocky debris on the main highway.
Aerial footage outside Kaikoura showed railway tracks ripped up and tossed 10 metres (30 foot) by the force of the quake, while locals posted pictures of themselves near huge fissures