WELLINGTON: Preparations are under way in New Zealand for a severe storm that threatens to hit parts of the country already damaged by deadly flooding.
Cyclone Gabrielle is expected to hit the country’s North Island from Saturday night – potentially bringing strong winds and further heavy rain.
Residents have been told to ensure they have enough supplies to last three days in case they are trapped at home.
The storm comes weeks after torrential rain inundated the city of Auckland.
Tens of thousands of sandbags have been distributed there due to concerns the sodden ground and weakened infrastructure have made homes more vulnerable to flooding.
Evacuation shelters have been set up once again and Air New Zealand, the national carrier, has cancelled several domestic flights ahead of the cyclone’s arrival.
Photographs and videos posted on social media showed long queues at supermarkets and bare shelves as people prepared for more severe weather.
Local media have reported that New Zealand’s most northern region, Northland, has already begun to experience high winds.
Cyclone Gabrielle has been downgraded from a category three storm to a category two, meaning less destructive winds are now expected.
However, forecasters have warned that they could still be strong enough to damage trees and power lines and that enough rain could fall to cause further flooding and landslides in the coming days.
The Coromandel Peninsula and the Tairawhiti/ Gisborne region, which were also affected by the recent torrential rain, have been placed under the most serious weather alert.
Residents in flood-prone areas have been told to prepare to evacuate.
“There’s a degree of nervousness and anxiety around this coming event,” the Thames-Coromandel district’s mayor, Len Salt, told the Stuff news website.
“Coromandel people are pretty resilient, but the fact we’ve been in this mode dealing with storm events from the beginning of January…people are tired.”
Meanwhile, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has said that conditions on the remote territory of Norfolk Island have begun to deteriorate because of Cyclone Gabrielle.
The island, which lies north of New Zealand, has also been placed under a red alert. Residents have been warned to stay indoors and to find the strongest part of their homes under which to take shelter.
“It’s getting hectic,” resident Alex McGillycuddy told ABC News, adding that the wind has become so strong it was hard to stand up outside.
“Some of the people here, they haven’t seen anything like this and they’ve been here 25 years,” he said.
Only three cyclones have come within a 50km (31 mile) range of the island in the past 30-40 years. (Int’l News Desk)