WELLINGTON: New Zealand declared a national state of emergency for only the third time in its history on Tuesday as Cyclone Gabrielle caused widespread flooding, landslides and huge ocean swells, forcing evacuations and stranding people on rooftops.
“It has been a big night for New Zealanders across the country, but particularly in the upper North Island … a lot of families displaced, a lot of homes without power, extensive damage done across the country,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters after the declaration.
Gabrielle is 100 km (60 miles) east of Auckland, near the east coast of the country’s North Island and is expected to move east-southeast, roughly parallel to the coast.
Kieran McAnulty, minister of emergency management, said that while New Zealand was now through the worst of the storm, more rain and high winds were expected.
The country was suffering from extensive flooding, landslides and damage to roads and infrastructure, he added.
Severe weather would extend to the upper South Island as the cyclone moved, the weather forecaster said.
Authorities have evacuated beach settlements and are still asking people to leave home as rivers continue to swell and the tide rises. Roads are closed, mobile phone services are down and some towns are cut off.
Hipkins said it was too early to say how many people had been displaced or injured. No deaths have been confirmed.
Parliament will sit briefly Tuesday afternoon but will then be adjourned until Feb. 21 because of the cyclone.
Local media are publishing photographs and videos of people sitting on top of buildings surrounded by flood water, of houses swept to the bottom of hills by landslides and of roads under water.
A volunteer firefighter remained inside a house that had slid down a hill in a beach-side town, the national fire and emergency service said. Another had been rescued and was in critical condition in hospital, it said.
A New Zealand navy warship is heading to a yacht that turned on its emergency beacon this morning off the east coast.
New Zealand declared a national emergency after an earthquake in 2011 and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
Residents of New Zealand’s biggest city were urged on Sunday to prepare for the impact of a storm that buffeted Australia’s Norfolk Island overnight.
Gabrielle, downgraded to a sub-tropical low-pressure system from a Category 2 cyclone, hit Norfolk Island on Saturday night, with its most destructive winds missing the island, before tracking to New Zealand, 1,460 kilometres (910 miles) south.
New Zealand’s North Island and its largest city Auckland braced for the storm’s full impact from Sunday night. Last month Auckland was hit by record rainfall that sparked floods and killed four people.
The city of 1.6 million was in line for a “full trifecta” of heavy rain, strong winds and storm surges, said Georgina Griffith, a spokeswoman for the nation’s weather forecaster, MetService.
“Don’t be fooled if you’re not affected until Tuesday,” she told reporters.
Wind and rain were spreading from the country’s north, with a 140 km per hour (87 miles per hour) wind gust reported on the country’s North Island on Sunday afternoon, MetService said. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)