16 Nov 2016

PM promises business support for Kaikoura

10:19 pm on 16 November 2016

Prime Minister John Key has promised the government will provide a business support package for quake-hit Kaikoura within 48 hours.

Mr Key has visited the small town, on the east coast of the South Island, for the second time since the massive earthquake on early Monday morning, as relief efforts arrived in force.

He said the Ministries of Business Innovation and Employment, Social Development and the Inland Revenue Department were among departments working on a support package.

Mr Key met with local tourism and hospitality operators, farmers and other businesses in Kaikoura.

"So we're not going to muck around. My expectation would be that we'll be able to come up with some details in the next 24 to 48 hours," he said.

Mr Key said it would be similar to the package the government put together for Christchurch after its earthquake which included paying staff for up to 11 weeks and picking up the tab for those without business continuity insurance.

That meant businesses could keep staff so that when the tourists returned there was the capacity to host them.

Tax breaks were also possible.

"We don't expect you to have to go through miles and miles of paperwork," he said.

After the meeting, Glenn Ormsby said it was helpful but businesses were worried.

"Summer's coming up, and what do we do? It should be our busiest period and what do we do?"

Meanwhile, Mr Key said road access remained the big challenge.

He said transport authorities were working very hard to get the inland road up and running, and would do their best to get there by the weekend.

It was cleared for access by military-style 4WD vehicles this afternoon.

Speaking to Checkpoint with John Campbell, Mr Key said whale watch tour operators had told him the seabed lift posed a major challenge for their businesses.

"Because the seabed has lifted by so much you've got a situation where you would only be able to float the boats for two hours a day - that's not commercial."

He said dredging may be required to allow the boats to operate.

"That's what they're telling me at the moment is that their best guess at the height of the season will only be for two hours, and that's obviously hopeless"

Mountains have moved - Key

Mr Key said entire mountains seemed to have moved in some places and it was hard to see how the road could be salvaged.

He made the observations about the damage during a trip with Transport Minister Simon Bridges on an RNZAF NH-90 helicopter.

It was Mr Bridges' first look at the slips and damage to the coastal State Highway 1 and the rail line.

Mr Bridges' verdict when he saw the first major slip was "pretty messy".

Speaking to each other over the helicopter radio system, Mr Key replied "that's not the biggest one by any stretch of the imagination".

John Key talks to tourists waiting to leave

John Key talks to tourists waiting to leave Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Further down, Mr Key pointed out massive slips which had totally obliterated the road.

"Look at this road here, this is really stuffed and there's thousands of metres of it. I just don't see how you can ever repair that bit of road. The whole mountain has moved over."

He said on his earlier visit on Monday they had seen the northernmost damage.

"We thought thought 'that's not too bad'. Then we got to here."

As they went past the train marooned between two slips, Mr Key observed the train and driver had been saved by lucky timing.

"Being in the tunnel probably saved him."

Transport Minister Simon Bridges in Kaikoura today.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges in Kaikoura today Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Key said one slip alone would have taken the road out for a while and cost a lot to fix.

NZTA spokesperson Mark Owen said one of the issues would involve bringing the slip down in a controlled manner, as well as having to work in a marine environment.

He was expecting satellite imagery today to allow them to assess exactly how many slips there were.

Mr Owen said there was also major bridge damage, "much worse than after the Christchurch earthquakes" on SH70.

A ford would have to be put in place at one point to get the road open again.

In Kaikoura, a long line of helicopters waited, part of the effort to bring in supplies and take out stranded visitors.

Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith had arranged for local farmers and businesses to meet with Key.

He said water supplies were still a problem and there were concerns about diesel for farmers, as well as for companies such as Whale Watch because the lifting of the seabed in the earthquake had impacted on their ability to operate.

Damage to highways near Kaikoura.

Damage to highways near Kaikoura Photo: RNZ / Simon Morton