New Zealand cyclone: national state of emergency declared after country left with ‘extensive damage’

Communities have been devastated with more than 60,000 homes left without power, and widespread flooding forcing evacuations

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The New Zealand government has declared a national state of emergency after the north of the country was battered by Cyclone Gabrielle.

The declaration on Tuesday (14 February) enables the government to support affected regions and provide additional resources, Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty said.

The cyclone left widespread flooding and destruction that forced evacuations, road closures, and brought power outages to more than 60,000 homes.

One firefighter was missing and another was rescued with critical injuries after they were caught in a landslide overnight near the country’s largest city, Auckland, local media reported.

Chief Executive Kerry Gregory of New Zealand’s Fire and Emergency Service said the firefighters were investigating flooding in a house when a landslide occurred on the slope above and the house collapsed.

Mr Gregory said: “Our thoughts are with our firefighters, and with their loved ones. This is a very difficult time for them, and for every member of Fire and Emergency NZ when we are also focused on responding to the continuing need in so many communities across the North Island today.”

A woman has been killed in Hawke’s Bay after a bank collapsed onto her home. Hawke’s Bay Emergency Management said: “Police visited the property following a missing person’s report and undertook rescue efforts but were unsuccessful.”

Police were also responding to reports of a person found deceased on the shore in Napier, while the town of Wairoa has been completley isolated with loss of power, phones, internet and roads.

Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Controller Liz Lambert said: “Wairoa only has one day’s worth of food, and enough drinking water for two days. We have made a request to NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) for enough food and water to supply the district for seven days.”

‘Real threat to the lives of New Zealanders’

The national state of emergency has been declared in six regions.

  • Auckland
  • Northland
  • Tairawhiti
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Waikato
  • Hawke’s Bay

“This is a significant disaster with a real threat to the lives of New Zealanders,” McAnulty told reporters in Wellington, the country’s capital.

A weather station in the Hawke’s Bay and Napier region recorded three times more rain overnight than what usually falls for the entire month of February, MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said.

“It’s going to be wet, sodden devastation around there. We’ve seen the worst of the storm now. We’ve just got to get through today,” he said.

Meanwhile New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the military was already on the ground on the hardest-hit northern reaches of the North Island.

Personnel were helping with evacuations and keeping essential supplies moving.

Hipkins told reporters: “I want to acknowledge the situation New Zealanders have been waking up to this morning. A lot of families displaced, a lot of homes without power, extensive damage done across the country.”

“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,” he said.

Services ground to a halt

On Monday (13 February) services in Auckland were grounded to a halt with trains cancelled, libraries and most schools closed, and authorities asking people to only make essential trips.

On its Facebook page, Auckland Emergency Management encouraged Aucklanders “to consider whether travel is necessary, plan ahead, think about their safety and allow extra time”.

Air New Zealand cancelled all domestic flights to and from Auckland throughout Tuesday morning, as well as many international flights. Overall the airline cancelled more than 500 flights.

The carrier also cancelled domestic flights to and from the cities of Hamilton, Tauranga and Taupo.

The airline said more than 10,000 international customers had been affected with thousands still to be rebooked.