© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view shows high tides rising due to Cyclone Gabrielle in Arkles Bay, Auckland, New Zealand on February 13, 2023 in this screenshot obtained from a social media video. John Longson/Twitter @JohnLongson/via REUTERS
By Lucy Craymer and Lincoln Feast
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand declared a national state of emergency for only the third time in its history on Tuesday as Cyclone Gabrielle caused widespread flooding, mudslides and large ocean waves, forcing evacuations and stranding people on rooftops.
Canceled flights stranded thousands of people, while hundreds of thousands remained without electricity.
“The severity and breadth of damage we are seeing has not been experienced in any generation,” Premier Chris Hipkins said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Australia and Britain have promised support, he added.
At 18:00 (05:00 GMT), Gabrielle had moved southeast of Auckland, near the east coast of the country’s North Island, and was expected to continue moving southeast, roughly parallel to the coast. Weather warnings remained in place for much of the east coast of the North Island and the upper part of the South Island.
About 225,000 people were left without power, while dozens of supermarkets were closed, and Hipkins urged New Zealanders not to panic when buying supplies.
Architect Lars von Minden, 50, lives in Muriwai, a coastal town west of Auckland.
“I have rarely seen anything like this,” he told Reuters by phone. “There are three or four areas where there are just these massive landslides, some of them 300 meters (1,000 feet), that have collapsed, destroying houses, roads and everything.”
Kieran McAnulty, the emergency management minister, said that while New Zealand was now going through the worst of the storm, more rain and strong winds were expected.
The country suffered from extensive flooding, landslides and damage to roads and infrastructure, he added.
Transmission companies across the country reported damage to substations and power grids.
Authorities have evacuated beach resorts and are urging more people to evacuate their homes as rivers continue to rise and large waves inundate beachfront properties.
Roads are closed, mobile phone services are down, and some cities are cut off. Residents of hard-hit areas are being asked to conserve water and food for fear of shortages. Air New Zealand has restarted some flights to and from Auckland, although many routes remain suspended.
Helicopter and boat crews rescued people trapped in rapidly rising floodwaters in Hawke’s Bay, southeast of Auckland.
Hipkins said it was too early to say how many people were displaced or injured. There are no confirmed deaths.
Media reported that one person was missing after a house slid down a hill in Hawke’s Bay, while the Fire and Emergency Service said a volunteer firefighter was still inside a house swept down the hill by the landslide.
Local media published photos and videos of people sitting on top of buildings surrounded by floodwaters, houses swept to the foothills by landslides, and roads under water.
A New Zealand warship has rescued a person from a yacht that turned on a distress beacon off the east coast this morning.
New Zealand declared a national emergency after the 2011 earthquake and when the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic broke out.