New Zealand emergency services and defense personnel began evacuating hundreds of tourists and residents from the South Island town of Kaikoura on Tuesday, a day after a powerful earthquake hit the region, killing two people.
The 7.8-magnitude tremor struck just after midnight on Sunday, destroying farm homesteads, sending glass and masonry toppling from high rises in the capital Wellington and cutting road and rail links throughout the northeast of the South Island.
Kaikoura, a popular base for whale-watching about 150 km (90 miles) northeast of Christchurch and near the epicenter, was completely cut off by massive landslips.
Four large defense force helicopters were flying into the town on Tuesday morning and the Navy’s multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury was heading to the area, Air Commander Darryn Webb, the acting commander of New Zealand joint forces, told TVNZ.
“The priority today is the airlift operation,” he said. “We’re looking to do as many flights as we can out of Kaikoura today … around about four flights, to move approximately 200 of those tourists and residents south.”