Military helicopters are this morning flying to the most remote earthquake-struck areas to check on cut-off people.

Chief of Navy Rear Admiral John Martin told the Herald this morning: "A large number of people have been isolated so we want to get in to see them."

Four Navy frigates carrying helicopters plus RNZAF 3 Squadron NH90 helicopters are today tasked with the mercy missions.

They are also doing heavy lifting jobs for the emergency response.


More reconnaissance missions by RNZAF P3 Orion aircrafts, as well as US Navy and Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force aircraft, are also scheduled to take images of slip areas to "allow planners to make better decisions", Martin said.

The New Zealand Defence Force has mobilised about 500 personnel, at least 11 aircraft and four vessels to support the Government's earthquake response.

Warships from Australia, Canada and the United States, in the country to take part in the Royal New Zealand Navy's 75th anniversary, are instead supporting the national relief effort following Monday's magnitude-7.8 quake.

Martin said that despite the Navy's planning and preparations for its 75th birthday this week, there was "never any doubt in our minds where our priorities were".

"This is what navies and defence forces do," he said.

"We know that the Defence Force and the Navy needs to be useful and responsive. We are ready to go as the mission changes and while it's a pleasure to host our guests, we won't let that stand in the way of providing the right response to New Zealand."

As the nature of the disaster response changes, the Navy will provide whatever support is necessary, Martin said.

"There are ships here with some fantastic capabilities, for example the Singaporeans and the Indonesians, Japanese and so on, which could be very helpful."


Martin said many sailors have relatives in North Canterbury and they are concerned about their people, and they want to help "family and communities that they know and understand".