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Two dead after quake hits NZ

AAP logoAAP 14/11/2016 Sean Martin

Two people are dead after a massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand, which sparked a tsunami warning and has left some towns cut off, with popular South Island tourist town Kaikoura the most affected.

Prime Minister John Key has flown to the area and has spoken of the "utter devastation", while estimating the repair bill will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and the clean up to take months.

The quake, located near Hanmer Springs in North Canterbury at a depth of 15 kilometres, struck minutes after midnight and more than 250 aftershocks have since rattled the country.

A local state of emergency has been declared in Kaikoura and Hurunui and Marlborough District Council says police are working to rescue travellers stranded around Kaikoura.

It says the occupants of at least half a dozen campervans north of the coastal town are due to be airlifted to the Ward welfare centre. Those stranded to the south would be airlifted further south.

The council says there has been major infrastructure damage in Kaikoura, while sewerage and water supply has been cut off and power is being restored. Communications remain difficult with fixed and mobile phone lines still down.

Shops are closed and people are not able to buy food, fuel or water.

"All residents are strongly urged to conserve water," the council said.

"It may take days to restore the household water supply."

Prime Minister John Key said two people were confirmed dead but it was not yet clear if both were as a direct result of the tremor.

Police earlier said one death was reported at the heritage-listed Elms Homestead at Kaikoura and another person was believed dead at a house at Mt Lyford, north of Christchurch.

A defence force chopper flew Mr Key to Kaikoura on Monday afternoon for the inspection of land slides and ruptured roads.

An Air Force Orion had surveyed main transport routes between Picton and Christchurch, while schools and early childhood centres from Wellington to Canterbury remain closed.

Four homes in Christchurch abandoned by owners after a tsunami warning had been burgled, police said.

The initial quake was registered as a 6.6 magnitude shake before being upgraded by GeoNet seismologists.

A host of aftershocks above magnitude 5 were recorded with the biggest a 6.3 tremor.

A fire search and rescue team has flown to Kaikoura and two further teams have been sent to Waiau and Blenheim.

The national crisis management centre had been activated but a national state of emergency had not been declared.

Residents in Cheviot, near the epicentre of the first quake, reported extensive damage.

"Family friends in Cheviot say some houses are gone" a woman named Brodie tweeted.

In Wellington some buildings were damaged and windows were smashed.

KiwiRail has suspended services on the main line south of Palmerston North in the North Island and north of Christchurch in the South Island, while Cook Strait ferry services have also been cancelled.

State Highways in the South Island remain closed and many other local roads had also been damaged.

The quake comes almost six years after a destructive 6.3 earthquake that killed 185 people in Canterbury early in 2011.

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