Aid convoy reaches quake-hit New Zealand town of Kaikoura as damage bill mounts

Defence personnel unloading water containers from a helicopter as hundreds of tourists are evacuated from Kaikoura.
Defence personnel unloading water containers from a helicopter as hundreds of tourists are evacuated from Kaikoura.PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (REUTERS) - A convoy of 27 military trucks reached the quake-stricken New Zealand town of Kaikoura on Friday (Nov 18), five days after the seaside community was completely cut off by huge landslides caused by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed two people.

The convoy, which had been delayed by bad weather on Thursday, carried food and medical supplies and a team of civil engineers, officials said.

Helicopters have also flown provisions to the town from navy vessels anchored offshore since the quake struck early on Monday. More than 1,000 tourists and residents were evacuated from the small fishing town, a popular whale-watching base on New Zealand's ruggedly beautiful South Island.

Relief efforts by sea, air and road would continue to supply the town of around 2,000 people as roads remained shut to the public.

"Our people are going to be there for a very long time," a spokeswoman for the New Zealand Defence Force said.

Not all tourists have left, and New Zealand media reported that a local lawmaker and motel owner had complained that some were staying to get drunk and party through the night for a "cheap holiday" as residents tried to clean up.

Warships from Australia, Canada and the United States, in New Zealand for the Royal New Zealand Navy's 75th anniversary, have also been assisting with Kaikoura's recovery.

The quake's cost could add up to almost NZ$12 billion (S$12 billion), which would likely take a toll on the government's finances and possibly push the country's budget back into deficit after two years of surpluses, according to analysts.

"This week's disaster struck in more lightly populated areas but damage to infrastructure has been severe," said Citibank economists in a research note.

The note compared this week's tremor with the 2011 quake in Christchurch, the South Island's largest city, that killed almost 200 people and required a NZ$40 billion rebuild. Others have put the bill lower.

Prime Minister John Key said earlier this week that the damage bill would be about NZ$2 billion, although he cautioned that was only an early estimate.

Finance Minister Bill English told parliament the damage was"relatively localised".

As many as 60 buildings were damaged in the capital, Wellington, on the North Island some 150 km to the northeast of Kaikoura.

That included serious structural damage to three relatively recently constructed multi-storey buildings, one of which engineers said would have to be torn down.

The government said on Thursday that it would investigate why the newer buildings had been unable to withstand the quake.