A magnitude 7.5 earthquake centred near Hanmer Springs killed two people near Kaikoura shortly after midnight and has damaged roads, railways and ports in the upper South Island and in Wellington. Kaikoura is cut off by road and rail because of massive slips on the coast.
The Cook Strait ferries are moored in Wellington Harbour because the berthing facilities are damaged at both the Port of Wellington and Picton. Officials are recommending people not travel to the Wellington CBD, where broken glass from windows in high rise buildings and masonry litters the footpaths. There are reports of internal damage to some buildings and of liquefaction on the waterfront, with the BNZ building and the TSB Arena most affected.
Schools in central Wellington have closed for damage checks and NCEA exams are not being held at some schools, including Wellington Girls College. NZQA announced all NZ Scholarship exams scheduled for today had been postponed. Wellington's rail services have been suspended. A Tsunami alert issued after the earthquake was lifted shortly after 6 am.
John Key said he had dispatched a NH 90 Army helicopter to Kaikoura to assess damage. He said cabinet would meet today as scheduled and he expected to travel to Kaikoura with Gerry Brownlee later today. He has also said it would be unlikely he would travel to Argentina tomorrow as expected on route to APEC meetings.
To get a sense of the scale of the quake, this picture is of National MP for Kaikoura Stuart Smith standing in a chasm in the State Highway 1 at Tirohanga Stream just south of Kaikoura.
Hotels were evacuated in central Wellington and some visitors spent the night in Parliament's lobby areas.
There are no early estimates of the cost of any damage. The New Zealand dollar initially dropped around 30 basis points to 70.8 USc, but quickly rebounded to 71 USc, having fallen from 73 USc on Thursday and Friday night because of higher US interest rates in the wake of Donald Trump's surprise election. The NZX said the market would open as normal this morning. The Reserve Bank said the ESAS-NZClear payment networks were fully operational.
In other economic and political news...
BusinessNZ and BNZ reported on Friday their Performance of Manufacturing Index survey found a slight deceleration in expansion in the sector in October from September.
In another sign of subdued inflation for consumers, Statistics New Zealand reported on Friday that the Food Price Index fell 0.8% in October from September and was up 0.6% from a year ago. Grocery prices were up 0.2% in October from a year ago.
Labour said it had selected policy adviser Priyanca Radhakrishnan for the Maungakiekie electorate in Auckland for the 2017 election.
Quote of the weekend:
Former GM and Microsoft CFO (and Carter Holt Harvey CEO) Chris Liddell in this Q+A interview on the meaning of Donald Trump's win:
"I think the days of unbridled free trade and unbridled free markets are over. I worked in the private sector all my life, so I’m a believer in free markets, but not unbridled free markets. And we’ve had 30 years since the mid-‘80s, both in New Zealand and here in the US and globally of basically free markets being driving the whole thinking, the whole rhetoric around and governing. I think those days are over, personally. I think we’re going to go through a circular trend of a much more restrained free market. I think it’s warning for any government. When you look at those big issues, if you aren’t solving the inequality issue; if you aren’t dealing with the hollowing out of the middle class; if you aren’t facing big issues which affect people emotionally, like immigration, then you are blind to the big issues that we’re dealing with."
Have a great (and hopefully less shaky) day. My weekend column looking at what the financial effects of Donald Trump's win might be is below.