A national emergency has been declared in New Zealand to tackle the devastation wrought by Cyclone Gabrielle, which prime minister Chris Hipkins said was the most significant weather event the country has seen “this century”.
The deadly storm has caused widespread flooding and destruction, forcing evacuations, flight cancellations, road closures and left tens of thousands of homes without power. Schools and libraries were closed and bus services cancelled, with citizens urged to avoid unnecessary travel.
Authorities have evacuated coastal settlements and are urging still more residents to leave homes as rivers continue to swell and waves inundate beachfront properties.
Mobile phone services are down and some towns are cut off.
Residents in hard-hit areas are being asked to conserve water and food because of fears of shortages.
Air New Zealand restarted some flights in and out of Auckland yesterday, although many routes remained disrupted.
Helicopter and boat crews rescued residents trapped by rapidly rising floodwater in Hawke’s Bay, south-east of Auckland. While a yachtsman was airlifted from a stricken vessel at sea.
It comes on top of extensive damage wrought by extreme flooding and record rain last month.
“I want to acknowledge the situation New Zealanders have been waking up to this morning,” Mr Hipkins told reporters. “A lot of families displaced. A lot of homes without power. Extensive damage done across the country. “The impact is significant and it is widespread,” he said.
“It will take us a wee while to get a handle on exactly what’s happened and, in due course, helping with the clean-up when we get to that point,” Mr Hipkins added.
Emergency management minister Kieran McAnulty said the emergency declaration would enable New Zealand’s government to support affected regions and provide additional resources.
At least two people have died since the tropical cyclone made landfall on Sunday, and a firefighter is missing after being caught in a landslide near Auckland. “This is a significant disaster with a real threat to the lives of New Zealanders,” Mr McAnulty told reporters.
A weather station in the Hawke’s Bay and Napier region recorded three times more rain overnight than usually falls for the entire month of February, MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said.
“It’s going to be wet, sodden devastation around there,” Mr Ferris said.
Residents said floods had taken out houses and roads.