Aftershocks as tourists evacuated
RESCUERS in New Zealand yesterday began airlifting relieved tourists stranded by a 7.8 earthquake that devastated parts of the South Island coast and sparked 100,000 landslides.
Military helicopters started ferrying the first of 1200 holidaymakers trapped in the seaside town of Kaikoura, which bore the brunt of a quake that claimed two lives when it struck early on November 14.
Officials said the United States and Japanese militaries would also join the relief effort.
Huge landslides cut Kaikoura’s road and rail links, and police said water was running low, power was intermittent and hundreds of people were sheltering in evacuation centres.
The town has a population of 2000, which Prime Minister John Key said was bolstered by the tourists, mostly international backpackers attracted by the area’s popular whale-watching cruises.
Mr Key said getting them out safely was top priority and four air force helicopters had begun transporting them to nearby Christchurch, with numerous civilian choppers also helping the airlift.
Mr Key estimated the quake repair bill would reach billions of dollars but said the first job was delivering much needed supplies to the town.
The tremor, one of the most powerful ever in the quake-prone South Pacific nation, hit just after midnight with more than 1200 aftershocks complicating relief efforts.
Heavy rain and driving winds were hampering clean-up efforts, although life outside the main Kaikoura disaster zone was slowly returning to normal as roads opened and power was restored.
The quake triggered numerous landslides that dumped mountains of rocky debris on a main highway and ripped railway tracks 10 metres (30 feet) off course.
Huge fissures opened up in roads and some houses were rocked off their foundations.
Experts said the relatively low death toll was because the quake was centred on a sparsely populated area and hit at night, when people were in their homes.
It was felt across most of the country, causing severe shaking in the capital Wellington, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) away.
Mr Key admitted he was concerned that tourism, the country’s biggest export earner, would take a hit after images of the damage flashed around the world.
“People worry about earthquakes,” he said, adding that many world leaders had phoned him to offer their condolences and assistance.
But in the chaos that followed the quake he missed a call from US President-elect Donald Trump. –