WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The New Zealand government declared a national state of emergency Tuesday after Cyclone Gabrielle battered the country’s north, leaving widespread flooding and destruction.
A 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.
Auckland was swamped two weeks ago by a record-breaking storm that killed four people.
The national emergency declaration enables the government to support affected regions and provide additional resources, Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty said.
The country was lashed by intense rainfall overnight that forced evacuations and brought widespread flooding, road closures and power outages to more than 60,000 homes.
“This is a significant disaster with a real threat to the lives of New Zealanders,” McAnulty told reporters in the capital Wellington.
The national state of emergency includes six regions where local emergencies had already been declared. They are Auckland, as well as the regions of Northland, Tairawhiti, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Hawke’s Bay.
A weather station in the Hawke’s Bay and Napier region recorded three times more rain overnight than usually falls for the entire month of February, MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said.
“It’s going to be wet, sodden devastation around there,” Ferris said.
“We’ve seen the worst of the storm now,” Ferris added. “We’ve just got to get through today.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the military was already on the ground on the hardest-hit northern reaches of the North Island helping with evacuations and keeping essential supplies moving.
“I want to acknowledge the situation New Zealanders have been waking up to this morning,” Hipkins told reporters. “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,” Hipkins added.
Much of Auckland ground to a halt Monday as train services were canceled, libraries and most schools were closed, and authorities asked people to make only essential trips.
Air New Zealand canceled all domestic flights to and from Auckland through Tuesday morning, as well as many international flights. Some international routes would continue operating, airline officials said, although they might need to be diverted from Auckland. The carrier also canceled domestic flights to and from the cities of Hamilton, Tauranga and Taupo.
In all, Air New Zealand canceled more than 500 flights. More than 10,000 international customers had been affected, the airline said, with thousands still to be rebooked.