New Zealand declared a national emergency on Tuesday for the third time in its history, as Cyclone Gabrielle hit the North Island with wind and rain, knocking power to tens of thousands of homes.
Wind gusts of over 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour) were recorded along the coast, with waves approaching 11 meters (36 feet) high in the Bay of Islands, according to the New Zealand Weather Service.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the full scale of the disaster only became apparent when the country woke up on Tuesday.
“With an event of the size and scale that we’ve seen over the past 24 hours, what we have to do is make sure we’re addressing the most pressing needs across the country as quickly as possible,” he said. reporters.
The cyclone is the second significant weather event to hit Auckland and the upper part of the North Island in just a few weeks. Last month, Auckland and surrounding areas were hit by record rainfall that triggered flooding and killed four people.
This latest disaster is the third national state of emergency after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and the 2020 Covid pandemic, and is due to a weather system in the north of the country that is moving south and east along the coast.
Overnight, 150 members of the New Zealand Defense Force joined forces to distribute supplies and evacuate residents from areas where rising water had forced some homeowners onto roofs. Electricity was out for tens of thousands of residents, and cell phone service is patchy in some areas, making it difficult to coordinate services and stay in touch with those stranded.
Several communities and regions have been cordoned off, the Met Service said in a Facebook post. “More than 30 state highway closures and the shutdown of air, sea and rail transport across much of the northern half of the North Island,” the post said.
Air New Zealand canceled all domestic flights to and from Auckland Airport – around 55 – for the remainder of Tuesday due to strong winds.
Napier Airport, a further south regional hub, received three times as much rain as the February average – and recorded its second wettest day ever, with 175mm of rain in the 24 hours to 9am, local time on Tuesday, the Met Service said.
The red alerts, the highest alert level issued by the New Zealand Met Service, are ongoing and will last for much of Tuesday.
CNN meteorologists forecast another 24-36 hours of strong winds to impact the east coast and adjacent interiors of the North and South Islands before gradually subsiding on Wednesday afternoon.
Additional rainfall of up to 150mm can be expected in the southeastern regions of the North Island, including Wellington, through Thursday, while smaller totals will accumulate in the South Island, north of Christchurch.