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Two dead, tsunami warning after NZ quake

AAP logoAAP 13/11/2016 By Sean Martin

Two people are dead after a massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand, sparking a tsunami warning and leaving some towns cut off.

The Civil Defense agency later said the tsunami threat had passed but warned on its Facebook page that coastal areas could witness strong tidal currents and sea level fluctuations for hours.

Prime Minister John Key has flown to the area and has spoken of the "utter devastation".

He estimates the clean up will run into hundreds of millions of dollars and clearing blocked roads could take months.

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

One person reportedly died of a heart attack and another man lost his life after he was buried beneath the rubble of a house that collapsed in Kaikoura, one of the worst-affected regions.

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 would 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, a popular tourist destination and which has about 1000 visitors.

There is no sewerage and no household water supply, but power is being restored.

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 fatalities.

Police earlier said a casualty 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.

Mr Key said a Defence Force helicopter was heading to Kaikoura after it was cut off by slips and ruptured roads and he would fly there on Monday afternoon to inspect the damage.

An Air Force Orion had surveyed main transport routes between Picton and Christchurch.

Schools and early childhood centres from Wellington to Canterbury would remain closed until they had been assessed.

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.

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

People 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.

Wellington Region emergency controller Bruce Pepperell said a number of buildings were showing signs of "structural stress" and inspections were being carried out on bridges and tunnels around the region.

KiwiRail said it had suspended trains on the main trunk line south of Palmerston North in the North Island and north of Christchurch in the South Island.

Cook Strait ferry sailings have been cancelled and about 20 passengers aboard the Kaiarahi spent about 12 hours longer than planned on the vessel after it was unable to dock at Picton.

State Highways in the South Island have also been 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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