The cow family stranded by the New Zealand quake has been saved

New Zealand's HMNZS Canterbury was the first to anchor at the South Island seaside town of Kaikoura to evacuate tourists trapped by the powerful 7.8 tremor. While the country was spared the widespread destruction caused by a 2011 quake that left 185 dead, the latest disaster killed two people and caused significant damage to roads and rail infrastructure.

A Navy ship is expected in the area tomorrow to help evacuate stranded tourists and military helicopters are also being used to get people out.

Other tourists also said they planned to continue their trips, and travel agencies said they hadn't noticed a drop off in bookings, easing concerns about a major hit to the sector, New Zealand's biggest export earner.

Air Commodore and the Acting Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Darryn Webb says, "The evacuation has been a complete success".

At the time of the quake, Kaikoura's population of 2,000 was bolstered by about 1,000 tourists, attracted by the region's renowned whale-watching cruises.

The military has carved a route along one road but has classified it an emergency route for authorities only.

Hundreds of survivors stranded by a huge quake that struck central New Zealand three days ago reached Christchurch on a naval ship early on Thursday, as engineers in the capital, Wellington, assessed the state of dozens of damaged buildings.

Landslides block State Highway One near Kaikoura on the upper east coast of New Zealand's South Island following Monday's natural disaster.

The USS Sampson was due to arrive in Auckland today as part of the 75th anniversary of the New Zealand Navy.

"It looks as though it's the infrastructure that's the biggest problem, although I don't want to take away from the suffering. and bad fright so many people have had", he told Radio New Zealand.

The magnitude 7.8 quake that struck on Monday left hundreds of tourists stranded in Kaikoura after landslides blocked off all access. Monday's quake was centered in a rural area that is home to just a few thousand people.

Australian, US and Canadian warships are heading to Kaikoura and their helicopters would increase the numbers that could be evacuated, Stuart-Black said.

The visit by the United States ship is a matter of high importance for both countries as it ends a 30-year military stalemate, following New Zealand's decision to bar nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from using its ports or entering its waters.

He said the operation could take several days and that, if needed, a C-130 military transport plane could drop fuel, water, food and other supplies to the town.

He said the buildings that were evacuated include the local headquarters for the Red Cross and the Thai Embassy.

Civil Defence said at a briefing this morning that cellphone coverage and electricity in quake-stricken Kaikoura have increased, but there are still outages around the area.

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