Residents across the north of New Zealand are bracing for a rough night as Cyclone Gabrielle lashes the country with torrential rains and winds. At least 46,000 homes have lost power in the storm, while hundreds of flights have been canceled.
In New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, authorities evacuated people from 50 homes around a 30m-high tower that was in danger of collapse, local media reported. Dozens of evacuation centers have also been set up in the city.
Emergency services have also reported people trapped by the rising waters – including a family stranded on a flooded highway. Authorities say they’ve received more than 100 calls for help since Sunday.
A state of emergency has been declared in nine regions – affecting nearly a third of the 5.1 million population. Winds of up to 140km/h battered the Northland region, while the Auckland Harbour Bridge had to be closed as gusts of 110km/h rocked it. New Zealand’s meteorological agency, Metservice, said Whangarei, a city north of Auckland, had received 100.5mm of rain in the past 12 hours.
Many schools and local government facilities across Auckland and the North Island have closed and people are asked not to travel before Tuesday. Meanwhile, some 10,000 international Air New Zealand customers were disrupted by the cancellation of 509 flights.
Public transport has been disrupted with ferries, buses, and trains either suspended or operating on a reduced schedule.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was among those stranded in the northern city on Monday after flights to the capital Wellington, and elsewhere, were canceled. He announced an NZ$11.5 mln (USD 7.3 mln) aid package on Monday.
Emergency management minister Kieran McAnulty said the government was considering declaring a national state of emergency for only the third time in the country’s history. Once an emergency is declared, local authorities have greater power to respond to dangerous situations including restricting travel and providing aid.
McAnulty warned that Monday would be a “critical day” due to the “highly dangerous” combination of high winds and heavy rain. The minister warned that it could take days to restore the power grid for homes left without power, as the bad weather made it “unsafe” to work on the network.
Metservice said cyclone Gabrielle, which is yet to make landfall, would bring more “significant heavy rain and potentially damaging winds”.
The cyclone is the second significant weather event to hit Auckland and the upper North Island in just a few weeks. Last month, Auckland and surrounding areas were hit by record rainfall that sparked floods and killed four people.