The USS Sampson changed its course Tuesday and headed to New Zealand to help evacuate people stranded in a coastal town after a powerful earthquake, making it the first U.S. warship to visit the country in 30 years.
Hundreds of people became stranded in the town of Kaikoura when the magnitude-7.8 quake cut off train and vehicle access.
The USS Sampson was headed south to the town and agreed to deploy two helicopters to help New Zealand's military evacuate some 200 people.
The U.S. warship's visit to New Zealand is significant because it marks the end of a stalemate between the two countries which began when New Zealand banned nuclear warships.
"Despite the changes to the planned celebrations, it's poignant to see the anniversary marked with such cooperation and camaraderie," New Zealand Defense Minister Gerry Brownlee said in a statement.
The quake left two people dead and triggered a small tsunami, while also sweeping mud across highways and cracking roads.
Three cows even found themselves stranded on a small grass island when the earthquake triggered landslides. The mission to rescue them was delayed because of fears the ground could crumble.
Newshub reported that a farmer and a few others dug a track to bring them to safety.
Kaikoura, in particular, is a popular tourist destination that is home to approximately 2,000 residents.
The earthquake cut off water supplies and knocked out the sewer systems in the tourist town.
"From all directions, Kaikoura has essentially been isolated," said Air Commodore Darryn Webb. Webb added that the military would be able to rescue about 18 people at a time and the navy ship could pick up hundreds if weather conditions were good.
We're going to get as many people and belongings out as quickly as we can.
Webb said the rescue operation could take multiple days.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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