Repairing earthquake-damaged roads in the Kaikoura region will run into billions of dollars, says Prime Minister John Key who described the scene from the air as "utter devastation".
Mr Key, Earthquake Commission Minister Gerry Brownlee and Labour leader Andrew Little this afternoon flew over the district in a Defence Force NH90 helicopter following the magnitude 7.5 earthquake that struck just after midnight, leaving two dead..
Mr Key said the damage is much much worse than he thought.
People in Kaikoura are cut off with no way in or out via land, and it will cost billions of dollars to repair the damage to roads.
Clearing the debris and blocked roads could take months, he said.
"It's just utter devastation, I just don't know...that's months of work," Mr Key told Mr Brownlee and pilots on board the helicopter.
He hoped there were no cars stuck underneath the heavy rockfall.
"It's lucky it was midnight," he said, describing the rockfall as worse than the Manawatu gorge slips in recent years.
Mr Key said Defence Force planes may start flying out tourists who are desperate to get out of Kaikoura.
HNZMS Canterbury is on its way and consideration is being give to helping the 1100 stranded tourists get out that way, he said.
As the chopper surveyed damage over the wider Kaikoura area, further earthquakes hit and dust from rockfalls and slips could be seen.
As they flew over, Mr Key and Mr Brownlee commented on the damage to rail lines and roads.
The doors were opened and the helicopter flew low as the PM, Mr Brownlee and Andrew Little surveyed the area.
'It's like a fire almost'
The crew also ran through what other Defence Force personnel had been doing through the day.
Some had gathered supplies to take in to Kaikoura. A number of NH90s are preparing to take in tonnes of food, water and other supplies tomorrow.
"It's a lot of water running down there, Mr Key said as he flew over the Clarence Rivermouth.
Parts of the area were clearly impassable and the water was a murky brown.
The doors to the chopper were open as they flew over the hills and the dust was thick in the air.
"It's like a fire almost," Mr Key said.
As he viewed the damage, Mr Little said the mudslides and rockfall were "stunning".
"I can't imagine what it will be like to clear it," he told us.
As the helicopter descended sharply into Kaikoura, bumpy conditions large rockfalls were evident.
"Look at that road down there, it's been hammered," Mr Key said.
A slumped hill could be seen and Mr Brownlee commented "Oh hell, that's amazing".
They commented to each other and the pilots over the intercom about large slips on roads and the rail line.
Cars could be seen lying on their sides.
Mr Key said the Government will consider a business support package to help Kaikoura get back on its feet, saying obviously it's a tourist town and it needs people to return.
Mr Key has today postponed his trip to Argentina, but says he intends to travel to Peru later this week to attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting at the weekend if circumstances permit.
Meanwhile Parliament unlikely to sit tomorrow, Mr Key saying the lifts in the Beehive not working, but the Speaker will make the final decision.