New Zealand’s prime minister visited the scene after a powerful earthquake rocked the country, triggering landslides and a small tsunami and leaving two people dead.
Strong aftershocks continued to shake the country on Monday, rattling the nerves of exhausted residents, many of whom had spent a sleepless night huddled outside after fleeing to higher ground to avoid the tsunami waves.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck the South Island just after midnight on Sunday in a mostly rural area dotted with small towns.
Near the epicentre, it opened up snaking fissures in roads and sparked landslides.
But New Zealand was largely spared the devastation it saw five years ago when a deadly earthquake struck the same region.
Sunday’s quake caused damage in Wellington, the capital, more than 120 miles to the north. It was also strongly felt to the south in the city of Christchurch, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2011 that killed 185 people. Residents said the shaking went on for about three minutes.
Police said one person died in the small coastal town of Kaikoura and another in Mt Lyford, a nearby ski resort. Several other people had reportedly suffered minor injuries in Kaikoura, police spokeswoman Rachel Purdom said.
Prime Minister John Key flew over the destruction in Kaikoura by helicopter on Monday afternoon, as aftershocks kicked up dust from the landslides below. Cars could be seen lying on their sides and parts of the road were clearly impassable.
“It’s just utter devastation. … That’s months of work,” Mr Key told acting civil defence minister Gerry Brownlee as they hovered above the damage.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, center, and acting Civil Defense Minister Gerry Brownlee, right, fly over Kaikoura, New Zealand, to inspect the damage following a powerful earthquake. He estimated the clean-up would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and clearing the debris and blocked roads could take months.
Defence force personnel were planning to take food, water and other supplies to Kaikoura on Tuesday.
The prime minister said waves of about two metres hit the coast but the tsunami threat had since been downgraded to coastal warnings.
He said authorities had no reason to believe the death toll would rise above the two reported fatalities.
“On the very best information we have at the moment, we think it’s only likely to be two. But of course there are isolated parts of the country which we don’t have perfect eyes on, so we can’t be 100% sure,” he said.
Mr Key said officials had decided not to declare a national emergency because New Zealand’s regions were able to adequately cope with the situation.