KAIKOURA, New Zealand (KTRK) --The prime minister of New Zealand says it could cost billions to rebuild after a deadly earthquake that rocked its South Island Monday.
The 7.8 magnitude quake struck just after midnight near Kaikoura, about 55 miles northeast of Christchurch, according to the US Geological Survey.
VIDEO: Powerful earthquake strikes New Zealand, killing two
At least two people have died as a result of the earthquake.
The earthquake triggered waves as large as 8 feet above usual tide levels, the highest seen in 38 years.
Prime Minister John Key surveyed the damage, and said his office was doing all it could to help the people of Kaikoura get access to food, water and emergency assistance.
"I'd say it's billions of dollars worth of money that we have to spend here, but we're focused on what we're doing and we'll keep up the good work."
Tremors startled visitors to the island nation and residents alike, with aftershocks measuring as high as 6.0 magnitude.
A 2011 earthquake killed 185 people and injured thousands of others. That quake was a devastating 6.3-magnitude, an event that is still fresh in so many people's minds there.
Tamara Hunt said "this is the strongest earthquake I've ever felt."
Hunt was with her husband at their Whanganui home when the earth began to rattle.
"It started off so small, like the cat moving in the bed, but then it started building and I had to run to the door. Stuff in the house was falling over and doors were swaying really bad," Hunt said.
New Zealand is a regular hot zone for earthquakes, because it sits in the so-called "collision zone" between the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates.
It is also part of the Pacific's "Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped belt around the ocean's edges where many earthquakes and volcano eruptions occur.