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Tears and beers as tourists recount NZ quake 'pandemonium'

AFP logoAFP 16/11/2016

There were tears and beers Tuesday as the first wave of tourists to escape a quake-hit New Zealand town described scenes of "pandemonium" when the massive tremor struck as they slept.

"It frightened the life out of me," said David Foulds, as he stepped off one of the fleet of military helicopters ferrying people from the cut-off seaside town of Kaikoura to Woodend near the main South Island city of Christchurch.

"When it was all over we scarpered and there was pandemonium in the town," he said, reliving the 7.8-magnitude nightmare on Monday which cut road and rail links.

Foulds was among more than 100 tourists, clutching what possessions they could carry, who were airlifted to Woodend on the outskirts of Christchurch which itself is still recovering from a destructive earthquake that claimed 185 lives in 2011.

With a constant wave of aftershocks continuing to rock the Kaikoura region, a popular whale-watching spot, many of the evacuees wept, overcome by emotion.

Others cheered and profusely thanked waiting workers from the Red Cross disaster welfare support unit and local volunteers who turned up to meet them, arrange food and accommodation and assist with onward travel arrangements.

Tourists trapped by the Kaikoura earthquakes arrive by military helicopters © Martin Hunter/Getty Images Tourists trapped by the Kaikoura earthquakes arrive by military helicopters The relieved tourists also expressed admiration for the calmness and generosity of the Kaikoura locals who took them in after the shaking stopped in the early hours on Monday.

"We're happy now we can get some decent rest and hopefully continue the trip," said Toon van Dyck from Belgium who is holidaying with his wife Hanne and one-year-old son Max.

"It feels good to be out, but to be honest we felt safe there all the time and the people have been taking great care of us providing us with everything we need, food and good companionship."

It was a similar experience for Foulds, a holidaymaker from Auckland who had arrived in Kaikoura with his wife too late on Sunday night to find accommodation and was sleeping in his car.

"We stopped at this house and this family took us into their home and we stayed there for two days," he said.

"It was a humbling experience, but a frightening experience," he added before being whisked off to Christchurch airport for a flight back to Auckland after deciding to cancel the rest of his trip.

- Make the best of it -

Van Dyck, however, had no intention of cutting short his holiday and put the severe tremor down to one of life's experiences.

He said he felt confused but safe during the shaking and planned "to make the best of the coming five weeks".

"I was surprised. I had known of the Christchurch earthquake but I never thought it would happen while I was here for a short period, right in the place where I was staying in the camp ground."

Peter Moeller, holidaying from Germany with his wife, daughter and grandchild on "the trip of a lifetime" to celebrate his 60th birthday, admitted he feared for their safety when the earthquake struck.

Their rented mobile home felt as if it was going to topple over and "everything fell and smashed on the floor," he said.

"We knew of Christchurch (quakes) but never thought it would happen to us."

When the shaking stopped and he checked to make sure everyone was safe, there was only one thing to do.

"We drove up a hill and drank a beer."

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