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New Zealand town evacuation complete following earthquake

Published 16/11/2016

An emergency worker patrols a road cordon in Wellington, New Zealand (AP)
An emergency worker patrols a road cordon in Wellington, New Zealand (AP)

New Zealand's military leaders say they have almost completed the evacuation of more than 700 tourists and residents from a small coastal town, two days after a powerful earthquake cut off train and vehicle access.

The magnitude 7.8 quake left two people dead, triggered a small tsunami, and brought down rocks and mud that swept across highways.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the acting commander of New Zealand's Joint Forces, said crews were loading about 380 people and three dogs onto a navy ship which is due to leave on Wednesday evening for a six-hour trip to a port near Christchurch.

Air Commodore Webb said it had evacuated another 340 people by helicopter since Tuesday.

Other tourists have left by chartering their own helicopters or having air transport provided by their embassy, while others have chosen to stay until an inland road reopens.

Warships from Australia, Canada and the US are due to arrive soon and will help restock the town with water, fuel and other supplies as well as transport equipment.

Australian honeymooners Kurt and Kailah Sapwell were among the tourists stuck in Kaikoura but they did not seem too bothered by their ordeal. They said they had all the essentials they needed: a place to stay, food and water.

"It's been a shaky experience, all good though," Kurt Sapwell said when prime minister John Key paid a visit to the town.

His wife added that their honeymoon had been "memorable".

Home to about 2,000 residents, Kaikoura was a popular destination for travellers wanting to go on whale-watching expeditions before the quake hit. On Wednesday, Mr Key promised business owners the government would provide financial assistance for them through what is going to be a tough summer.

US president-elect Donald Trump called Mr Key to pass on his sympathies over the quake. Mr Key's office described the conversation as "very warm and cordial".

Authorities also managed to clear an emergency inland road to Kaikoura, although it was only open for military vehicles.

Neil Walker, the highways manager for the New Zealand Transport Agency, said the road remains high-risk and unsuitable for cars, although crews are working to open it to the public by the weekend.

In the capital, Wellington, several streets remain cordoned off after engineers determined that a nine-storey office building is in danger of collapsing.

Brendan Nally, the regional commander for the New Zealand Fire Service, said engineers were completing an inspection of the building when they found a major vertical beam had failed above the fifth floor.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said the building would likely have to be demolished. He said he did not believe it posed a risk to public safety because of the precautions authorities had taken in evacuating the area around it.

AP

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