WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Latest on a strong earthquake that struck New Zealand (all times local):
The first U.S. warship to visit New Zealand in more than 30 years is changing course to help evacuate people isolated by an earthquake in the coastal township of Kaikoura.
New Zealand Gerry Brownlee said Tuesday the ship can deploy two helicopters to help move people from the town after Monday’s magnitude-7.8 quake cut off train and vehicle access.
The USS Sampson had been due to sail into Auckland on Wednesday as part of 75th anniversary celebrations for the New Zealand .
The visit is significant because it ends a 30-year stalemate between the countries that was triggered when New Zealand banned nuclear warships.
Brownlee says despite the change in plans, it is “poignant” to see the anniversary marked with cooperation and camaraderie.
New Zealand officials say they’ve evacuated about 140 stranded tourists and residents from the coastal township of Kaikoura and expect that number to rise to 200 by the end of the day.
They say two babies were among those rescued Tuesday.
The is using four NH90 helicopters to rescue those stranded by Monday’s powerful earthquake and to deliver supplies.
The magnitude-7.8 quake cut off train and vehicle access to the town, which is a popular destination for travelers taking part in whale-watching expeditions.
Wing Commander Scott McKenzie said in a statement that personnel were delivering food, water, diesel fuel and other basic necessities. Authorities have prepared about 5 metric tons (5.5 tons) of supplies in the city of Christchurch.
Several buildings in the center of New Zealand’s capital have been evacuated and some streets cordoned off after engineers determined that a nine-story building is in danger of collapsing, two days after a powerful earthquake shook the city.
Brendan Nally, the regional commander for the New Zealand Fire Service, said engineers were completing an inspection of the downtown Wellington building Tuesday when they found that a major vertical beam had failed above the fifth floor.
He said that “the building is at significant risk of collapse.”
The inspection came after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake rattled much of the country early Monday, just after midnight.
Nally said the building was empty when the quake struck.
He said the buildings that were evacuated include the local headquarters for the Red Cross and the Thai Embassy.