Torrential rain and high tides from Cyclone Gabrielle lead to severe flooding and landslides, cutting power to thousands.
New Zealand has declared a national state of emergency for only the third time in its history after Cyclone Gabrielle swept across the country’s north, bringing widespread flooding and leaving tens of thousands of people without power.
Local media reports showed people stranded on their roofs amid the rising waters, houses swept away by landslides and roads submerged by water.
Mobile phone services were also down in some areas.
“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 on Tuesday after the emergency was declared.
The cyclone is currently about 100km (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, signed the declaration as emergency services struggled to cope. The decision means more resources can be directed to the six most badly affected regions.
“This is an unprecedented weather event that is having major impacts across much of the North Island,” he said. “We are all facing extensive floods, slips, damaged roads and infrastructure.”
More rain and high winds are expected, and as the cyclone moves, the severe weather is expected to extend to the upper South Island too.
McAnulty said the weather reports that had come in overnight were “deeply concerning”.
Hipkins said it was too early to say how many people had been displaced or injured. No casualties have been confirmed.
A firefighter was missing after a house collapsed in West Auckland, while another had been rescued and was in critical condition in hospital, the national fire and emergency service said.
A New Zealand navy ship is heading to a yacht that turned on its emergency beacon this morning off the east coast.
About 1.6 million people live in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city. It was already struggling to clean up after the area was hit by major floods two weeks ago.
New Zealand previously declared national emergencies after the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.