Evacuations, business support priorities for Kaikoura post-earthquake

By Pattrick Smellie

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has been charged with putting together a "business continuity package" for the South Island coastal town of Kaikoura after Monday's massive earthquake cut the main highway connection to both the north and the south.

Prime Minister John Key, Finance Minister Bill English and Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee outlined the government's early response to the quake in a press conference this morning, as heavy flooding also cut off the capital city, Wellington, from the rest of the country.

There was "no sense at this stage what that (a support package) would cost or what the structure would be," said Key. "Like Christchurch, we look to people to have their own insurance capability and if they don't have that, we will look to potentially give them some support."

A violent storm lashing the country was hampering immediate relief efforts for Kaikoura, although American and Malaysian navy ships visiting New Zealand for the navy's 75th anniversary have offered three additional military helicopters to help ferry supplies in and international tourists out of the town.

Some 140 foreign tourists with international flights to catch were being prioritised for evacuation, Key said.

Brownlee said: "Here's a town that is largely dependent on the tourist market and farming and fishing as well, so we're looking at how we maintain the activity that's there and support those people."

This morning's press conference underlined the fragilities exposed in New Zealand's main road, ferry, and rail arterial links. All roads in and out of Wellington were closed by flooding, the ferry terminals in both Wellington and Picton requiring post-quake repairs to return sailings connecting the North and South Islands to normal, on top of estimates of billions of dollars of repairs required to the main highway connecting to the top of the South Island with Christchurch.

"The main arterial route for the North and South Islands is going to be significantly disrupted in parts for quite some time and the cost of restoring that will fall to the government, or quite a lot of it," said English.

"We're dealing with large slips, issues like Picton and Wellington both having significant issues around damaged infrastructure," he said. "These things are all a pretty hard fix."

However, he stressed the country had the financial resources to deal with the issues, even though the Earthquake Commission's National Disaster Fund remains depleted following the massive rebuild required following the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, which flattened Christchurch.

"They've got a government guarantee so there's no question over their ability to extend their coverage and meet all the claims," he said.

Key also raised the prospect of being able to open a southern route on State Highway 1 into Kaikoura more quickly than repairs to the highway between Kaikoura and Blenheim, where there are not only slips, but also severely damaged roads and bridges, along with much of the railway line destroyed along the route.

He raised the prospect of needing to realign the highway to try and future-proof it against similar damage in future quakes, but it was too early to speculate on whether and what shape such a project might take.

Wellington's CentrePort is expecting substantial costs also, and the future of commercial property developments on port land is a major looming question.

The Bank of New Zealand's Wellington headquarters has been closed for a second time following a major quake, the Statistics New Zealand headquarters may be closed for up to a year, and the Greater Wellington Regional Council's headquarters sank some 15 centimetres.

All three buildings are recent developments on the port precinct opposite the city's Westpac stadium, which is also the subject of inspection for damage.

- BusinessDesk

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 21 Jan 2017 18:05:39 Processing Time: 371ms