NZ earthquakes: navies begin to evacuate stranded tourists

People are ferried from Kaikoura to the frigate Canterbury today
People are ferried from Kaikoura to the frigate Canterbury today
UPDATE: Six navies join international rescue; Wellington buildings closed for fear of collapse; another storm coming

With six navies steaming to Kaikoura, the painfully slow process of evacuating 1000 stranded tourists and some locals from the earthquake-hit New Zealand town has begun.

Everything has conspired against the Kiwi Navy and Civil Defence teams organising the operation to ferry people out to the frigate Canterbury, moored offshore.

It is low tide at South Bay so the ship’s landing craft cannot reach the shore. Tourists kitted out in lifejackets must be ferried, a dozen at a time, in small inflatable boats, to the landing craft in the bay.

The landing craft will carry them to the Canterbury. They will be taken to Christchurch, arriving tonight.

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 US destroyer Sampson is on its way; 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 the frigate Darwin from the celebrations. It is expected to arrive tonight and will deploy its Seahawk helicopter from offshore. Canada is sending a frigate, the Vancouver.

New Zealand has sent two frigates – Canterbury and Wellington – and will 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.

Lance Corporal Nick Davenport says people with medical needs and the elderly are the first to be evacuated.

Tourist businesses are helping – the Dolphin Encounter boss drove his bus stacked with tourists from the marae in town.

The queues stretched up the street – hundreds remain stranded in the cut-off town and are pinning their hopes on a Navy evacuation.

The South Bay locals look on wistfully. They know that while this is the end of the road for the tourists, life in Kaikoura will not be so easily resurrected. With dwindling water and no sewerage, patience and nerves are fraying.

The quake-ravaged regions are bracing for a fresh onslaught of heavy rain, thunderstorms and bitterly cold gales set to batter central New Zealand in the next 48 hours.

Snow is expected across the Canterbury high country tonight. Meteorologist Tom Adams said the rain wouldn’t be as intense as yesterday, but with the ground already sodden there was a chance of flooding.

The NZ Transport Agency warned the wet weather could cause further disruption across the Wellington region.

A growing number of buildings in the central city are deserted as the full extent of quake damage begins to emerge.

An apartment block, a large office tower, the Defence Force headquarters, and the home of New Zealand’s spy agencies are the latest to be evacuated.

The main concern is an office tower at Molesworth St, which experts fear may collapse and bring down nearby buildings.

The Defence Force confirmed its headquarters, Freyberg House, may be closed for up to a year because of damage. Other affected buildings include Statistics House, home of the Government statistics department.

Engineers have cleared Westpac Stadium of major structural damage but it will be closed for about two weeks for repairs.

Elderly residents of a retirement village in the upmarket suburb of Khandallah have been sent to other facilities around the region after inspections raised concerns about the structure.



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