1,000 tourists stranded in New Zealand coastal town after powerful earthquake

Stranded tourists gather at a park in Kaikoura following the earthquake. Pic: AP

ABOUT 1,000 tourists and hundreds of residents remain stranded in a coastal town in New Zealand after a powerful earthquake on Monday cut off train and vehicle access.

Authorities said on Monday they are planning to send in military helicopters and a navy ship to rescue about those who were holed up in the tourism town of Kaikoura, near the epicentre of the earthquake.

Home to about 2,000 residents, Kaikoura is a popular destination for travelers 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, told The Associated Press. “There’s a real imperative to support the town because it can’t support itself.”

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

He added a ship was also leaving Auckland on Monday night that could potentially pick up hundreds of people if weather conditions allowed.

“We’re going to get as many people and belongings out as quickly as we can,” Webb said.

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.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key traveled by helicopter to the epicenter of the powerful earthquake to survey the damage.

The aerial view of the aftermath showed cars lying on their sides and parts of the road clearly impassable.

“It’s just utter devastation,” Key said, as quoted by the AP.

After inspecting the damage by helicopter toured the area and met with locals. Key said the cleanup effort could run up to billions of dollars, adding that clearing the debris and blocked roads could take months.

Police said one person died in Kaikoura and another died in Mt. Lyford, a nearby ski resort. Police say they have also received reports that several people had suffered minor injuries in Kaikoura.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press. This story first appeared on Asian Correspondent.