Six navies are steaming towards Kaikoura, New Zealand, today to help evacuate 1000 stranded tourists and locals from the earthquake-hit town.
Several Kiwi ships, an Australian frigate and a US destroyer will arrive in Kaikoura today to bring essential supplies and allow people to leave.
Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee confirmed New Zealand had accepted help from five nations – Australia, the US, Canada, Japan and Singapore. Their ships were in Auckland for celebrations to mark the Kiwi navy’s 75th anniversary this weekend.
The USS Sampson has left the Hauraki Gulf (Auckland) and is on its way to Kaikoura, where it will deploy two helicopters to help as required. The US has also offered an Orion plane for surveillance flights.
The Australian Defence Force has diverted HMAS Darwin from the celebrations. It is expected to arrive off the Kaikoura coast tonight and will deploy its Seahawk helicopter from offshore. Canada is sending a frigate, HMCS Vancouver.
Brownlee said New Zealand had already sent two frigates – Canterbury and Wellington – to Kaikoura and would also send the frigate Te Kaha and the tanker Endeavour.
Hundreds of New Zealand defence personnel are already helping with the recovery following Monday morning’s 7.5-strength quake. Two people died, hundreds remain in emergency shelters, particularly in the northern South Island, and the disaster triggered massive slips, cutting off towns and destroying homes.
Wellington was cut off from the rest of the country yesterday when extreme rain and wind compounded the earthquake damage, flooding highways and streets, blocking rail lines, and disrupting life for thousands of residents.
Civil Defence director Sarah Stuart-Black said about 200 people were evacuated from Kaikoura by helicopter yesterday but another 700 to 1000 people still needed to leave.
The HMNZS Wellington would survey Kaikoura harbour to find the best place for the Canterbury – New Zealand’s largest navy ship – to begin evacuating people.
Depending on weather, evacuees would be helicoptered on to the Canterbury.
Stuart-Black said 50 per cent of Kaikoura had access to the town’s water supply, but that was likely to increase to 75 per cent today.
Power and cellphone coverage was improving although there could still be “pockets” of outages.
Sewerage had been an issue in Kaikoura, and Civil Defence was looking at providing more chemical toilets for the town.
Asked whether Civil Defence had failed to keep international visitors in Kaikoura up to speed with the situation, she said there had been a number of public meetings and visitors were being “looked after there as if they’re part of the community”.
“We understand there’s stories where people in Kaikoura have taken tourists into their homes and provided shelter, and i think that is just part of the New Zealand way that we extend out generosity to international visitors as well.”
Civil Defence had asked the public not to donate goods to affected regions as immediate recovery efforts continued, she said. People who wanted to help could donate to funds like the Red Cross appeal.
In the nearby town of Waiau, close to the epicentre, 60 to 70 people are staying at the school, with about half sleeping in their vehicles.
Ten properties have been red-stickered – marked for demolition – and 32 have been yellow-stickered – needing further investigation. They include the historic hotel and a church.
Water has been restored to a quarter of the township, but is directly from the river, so must be boiled. Supplies have been delivered and the town is now accessible from both directions.
Some homes are still without power, and farmers are having to dump milk because it cannot be collected.
Many roads in the upper South Island remain closed, and may be impassable for weeks.
Wellington’s main state highways are open but the council has asked anyone who can work from home to do so, instead of coming into the city today.
Several inner-city roads are closed because of fears of falling glass and debris. A multi-storey office building is at risk of collapse.
Most commuter rail services have resumed but several stations in the Hutt Valley are closed because of yesterday’s floods.
Disruptions to major ferry lines and ports mean there’s only limited Cook Strait crossings.
Further north, more than 300 homes and farms in Taranaki and Whanganui are still without power following the wild weather that has struck the country over the last two days. It’s hoped it can be restored this afternoon.