Torrential rain and flooding from Cyclone Gabrielle cause severe flooding and landslides, cutting off thousands of electricity.
New Zealand has declared a national emergency for only the third time in its history after Cyclone Gabrielle swept through the north of the country, causing widespread flooding and leaving tens of thousands without power.
Local media reports showed people stranded on their rooftops amid the rising waters, homes swept away by landslides and streets inundated by water.
Cell phone service was also down in some areas.
“It was a big night for New Zealanders across the country but especially in the upper North Island…many families were displaced, many homes without power, great damage was done across the country,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters on Tuesday after the state of emergency was declared was proclaimed.
The cyclone is currently about 100 km (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, Secretary of State for Emergency Management, signed the statement as emergency services struggled to cope. The decision means more resources can be directed to the six hardest-hit regions.
“This is an unprecedented weather event that is having a major impact on much of the North Island,” he said. “We are all faced with extensive flooding, landslides, damaged roads and infrastructure.”
More rain and strong winds are expected, and as the cyclone moves, the storm is expected to spread to the upper South Island as well.
McAnulty said the weather reports received 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 went missing after a house collapsed in West Auckland while another had been rescued and was in critical condition in hospital, the National Fire and Rescue Service said.
A New Zealand Navy vessel is heading towards a yacht which has switched on its distress signal off the east coast this morning.
Around 1.6 million people live in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. It was already struggling to clean up after major flooding hit the area two weeks ago.
New Zealand has previous national emergencies after the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.