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Earthquake Clobbers Homes, Roads on New Zealand’s South Island

Quake Survivor: Everything in the House Was on the Floor 1:21

CLAVERLEY, New Zealand — The Prentice family home is perched on a cliff with spectacular views in every direction. To the north, green hills reach toward the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps, while to the west, the Pacific Ocean stretches from empty beaches to the horizon.

The view is nothing short of breathtaking, as is the toll taken on the house by the 7.8 earthquake that struck New Zealand's South Island on Sunday. Walls have buckled or crumbled, windows and doors popped from their frames, and furniture was flipped by the severity of the quake.

Image: The waterfront view from the Prentice house
The waterfront view from the Prentice house in Claverly, New Zealand. The home, which enjoyed the view, was seriously damaged by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Janis Mackey Frayer / NBC News

“We inherited the house from family and raised our kids here,” said Dr. Anthea Prentice, a local physician, as she surveyed the mess in the kitchen, “About two years ago we did a major renovation.”

The issue facing Anthea and her husband Andrew ‘Snip’ Prentice, is less about damage to the house than the ground underneath it. The earth is rippled and visibly broken; it droops in a way it shouldn’t at the edge of the cliff. Rebuilding may not be an option.

“At the end of the day this is our home,” said Tessa Prentice, the couple’s 20-year-old daughter. “Sad to think about… that it could be gone in a few weeks or even earlier.”

All up the coast there are signs of how the earthquake has altered the landscape. Railroad tracks are shifted, bridges are warped, and the main road toward the epicenter of the quake is mangled.

Our NBC News crew drove as far as we could towards Kaikoura, the town that is the focus of recovery and evacuation efforts. But the road gets so mangled it just stops. Parts of the road look like its sliding into gullies and the cracks are six-foot-deep yawning crevasses.

Image: Prentice family's damaged house
Andrew 'Snip' Prentice and his daughter, Tessa, stand near their home in Claverley, New Zealand on Nov. 15, which was seriously damaged by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Janis Mackey Frayer / NBC News

The helicopter traffic overhead was non-stop, with flights taking supplies and equipment into the quake zone and taking people out. Hundreds of tourists had been stranded in Kaikoura. Engineers were also trying to restore water and electricity in the area.

Near a small hut beside a river, we found drainage expert Ken Blackler wearing shorts, rubber boots, and several tattoos. He was wrestling with a section of pipe that had bent with the quake’s force and cut off a reservoir used by 30 farms.

“We’ve been through it all before,” he said of the cycle of repairs that follows every quake. “But there is still major damage.”

Blackler said especially after the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake which killed 185, preparedness is a way of life in New Zealand.

Image: Along the road to Kaikoura, the tourist town near the epicenter of the quake
Along the road to Kaikoura, the tourist town near the epicenter of New Zealand's quake. Janis Mackey Frayer / NBC News

“When it was happening, I woke with my wife and kids and thought, ‘Oh no, not again!” he recalled. “But we had a plan in place.”

Next steps for much of the area though are still uncertain. When we stopped on the road to Kaikoura, we met Vincent Daly, a member of the local government council, as he steered his car along the buckled asphalt.

“It’s pretty bad. It’s going to take a lot of fixing and a lot of money,” he said.

His bigger concern: jobs. The fact that the earthquake has cut off the area will have a serious and lasting impact on tourism and agriculture, the two main drivers of the local economy.

“Towns… will be dead without tourists,” he said, putting his car into gear to head to a meeting at the town office. “Nobody is going to drive up here. It’s a road to nowhere.”