The powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which killed two people, has caused utter devastation in New Zealand, with wild weather hampering rescue efforts as darkness fell.
The tremor, one of the most powerful recorded in the quake-prone South Pacific nation, hit just after midnight near the South Island seaside tourist town of Kaikoura.
It triggered a tsunami alert that sent thousands of coastal residents fleeing for higher ground.
Kaikoura, a town of about 2 000people popular with backpackers, was completely isolated, with telecommunications down and huge landslides cutting all access roads.
Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said rescuers had to travel in by helicopter to build up a clear picture of the damage.
“It looks as though it’s the infrastructure that’s the biggest problem, although I don’t want to take away from the suffering . . . and terrible fright so many people have had,” he told Radio New Zealand.
Brownlee and Prime Minister John Key flew over the affected area in a military helicopter.
“It’s just utter devastation . . .months of [repair] work,” Key remarked as he surveyed the land slips that dumped hundreds of tons of rocky debris on the main highway.
Aerial footage outside Kaikoura showed railway tracks ripped up and tossed 10m by the force of the quake, while residents posted pictures of themselves near huge fissures that opened up in roads.