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New Zealand earthquake leaves costly destruction in its wake

New Zealand's prime minister says Sunday's powerful earthquake that left two people dead has caused billions of dollars of damage. Rescuers are attempting to evacuate up to 1,000 stranded tourists from a seaside town.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on Monday indicated that damage caused by a 7.8 magnitude that struck the South Pacific nation after midnight on Sunday could cost the country around 2 billion New Zealand dollars ($1.43 billion, 1.33 billion euros), local news reported.

"It's hard to believe that the bill is going to be less than a couple of billion," Key told Radio New Zealand.

The US Geological Survey placed the epicenter in the South Island's North Canterbury region, saying it occurred at a depth of 23 kilometers (14.3 miles)

Evacuations begin

On Tuesday, emergency services began evacuating hundreds of tourists and residents from the South Island town of Kaikoura, which was completely cut off by massive landslides.

Watch video 00:28

Aftershocks rattle New Zealand after powerful quake

Four military and around 50 civilian helicopters were drafted in for the rescue effort, Radio New Zealand reported, and to drop off emergency supplies to the isolated town. The Navy vessel HMNZS Canterbury was also being sent to Kaikoura.

Gale-force winds and rain were hampering recovery efforts, and hundreds of aftershocks continued to rock the region.

In the hours after the seismic event, a 6.3 magnitude aftershock caused severe shaking in Christchurch, where a similar sized earthquake killed 185 people in 2011.

Sunday's quake killed at least two people. Authorities said infrastructure and property have been significantly damaged in some areas.

Prime Minister Key flew over affected areas in a military helicopter to assess the damage.

Outside of Kaikoura, aerial footage showed train tracks ripped up and tossed some 10 meters (32.8) away.

Watch video 01:03

After the quake in New Zealand

Key said it may take days to assemble a full picture of the damage. "As we have daylight we can use the military assets that we have to make sure we get a stock-take of the overall damage, but I suspect that will take quite some time to fully understand," the premier said.

The government is expected to appoint a senior official to oversee reconstruction in the aftermath of the quake.

ls,mm/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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