Earthquake relief efforts in New Zealand continued Wednesday with the deployment of the naval vessels HMNZS Canterbury and HMNZS Wellington. Three foreign warships are expected to arrive soon, bringing with them small craft and helicopters to provide emergency logistics.
The Canterbury, a sealift support ro/ro, helped evacuate over 400 tourists and local residents from the hard-hit town of Kaikoura. The evacuees were ferried to the ship by military landing craft and launches, and were carried safely to Christchurch. Normally this trip would be a three-hour drive over land, but infrastructure damage has cut off road and rail routes in and out of Kaikoura.
The death toll in the series of quakes that have hit the South Island over the course of this week stands at only two – low relative to the last major quake in the area, the disastrous Christchurch earthquake in 2011 – but the shocks have left widespread damage, including thousands of landslides. Slides have cut off roads, rail lines and other infrastructure – including about 50 sections of the main State Highway 1 alone.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges said officials were working night and day to clear an inland route.
Military and civil defense helicopters are also working hard to ferry civilians out of the area. There are now so many aircraft over Kaikoura that the government is bringing in air traffic controllers to ensure safety, reports New Zealand's Newshub.
High winds and heavy rain are expected in the region Thursday, which could complicate relief efforts.
The Canadian warship HMC Vancouver, the Australian Navy's HMAS Darwin and the U.S. Navy's USS Sampson were expected to arrive off Kaikoura Wednesday afternoon. Several of these vessels were scheduled to arrive in Auckland for the NZ Navy's seventy-fifth anniversary celebrations, and they diverted to assist.
"At the request of the New Zealand government, the USS Sampson and her two embarked MH-60R helicopters will join the U.S. P-3 (maritime patrol aircraft) that's already on station there in support of the disaster relief effort in New Zealand," said Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command.
The USS Sampson will soon be the first American warship to call at a New Zealand port in three decades.
Merchant shipping is also playing a key role in the relief effort. At the Port of Auckland, port chief executive Tony Gibson told the New Zealand Herald that traffic has doubled on the the Auckland-Christchurch coastwise route to meet the needs of quake-affected areas. "South Island goods are our top priority. It is only a small thing, but we are pleased to be able to help where we can," he said.
Agents Inchcape Shipping Services reported that as of Wednesday, all berths were open in the port of Picton on New Zealand's South Island, although damage to rail and road infrastructure outside of the port's vicinity still complicates cargo movements.
On the North Island, the port of Wellington's Port and Wharf gates will be closed until at least next week. One oil terminal has reopened outside of the main port area.
Social media posts and geologists' initial reports report that the quake also raised sections of seabed by more than three feet. Images show large boulders covered with kelp and sealife suddenly high and dry. Dr. Joshu Mountjoy, a government geologist, said it was the country's first instance of a major uplift in living memory.
The HMNZS Wellington is conducting a seabed survey off Kaikoura to determine the extent of the changes and any effects on the safety of shipping.
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