Torrential rains that hit parts of Auckland marked the region’s wettest day on record.
Three people have died and at least one is missing after record rainfall triggered flash floods in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, causing widespread disruption, including the closure of the airport and the evacuation of homes.
A state of emergency remained in place in the city of 1.6 million people on Saturday as heavy rain eased after downpours and flooding on Friday, marking Auckland’s wettest day ever, according to weather agencies. The amount of rain that would normally fall throughout the summer hit the area in one day with more than 150 mm (6 inches) of rain falling in just three hours in some places.
Highways were closed, and floodwaters poured into homes. Hundreds of people were stranded at Auckland Airport overnight after parts of the terminal were flooded and flights were cancelled.
Police said they found the body of a man in a flooded canal and another in a flooded parking lot. They said one person is missing after being swept away by a flood, while another person is missing after a landslide destroyed a house in the suburb of Remuera.
While the heavy rain stopped on Saturday, another downpour is possible on Sunday, the national forecaster said, adding that its impact is expected to be severe and widespread due to saturated ground.
“Our priority is to ensure Aucklanders are safe, housed and have access to the basic services they need,” New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.
He said the city was expecting a major cleanup and people should stay indoors if possible. “This is an unprecedented event in recent times,” Hipkins said.
Air New Zealand said it had resumed domestic flights to and from Auckland on Saturday afternoon, but was not yet sure when international flights would resume.
Auckland Airport is assessing the damage to our international terminal and has unfortunately determined that international flights are unable to operate today. We know this is extremely frustrating, but passenger safety is our top priority.
— Auckland Airport (@AKL_Airport) January 28, 2023
“The flooding has had a major impact on our Auckland operations,” said David Morgan, the airline’s chief operational integrity and safety officer. “We work to get customers to their final destinations and get our crew and aircraft back to the right place. It may take a few days to get everything back on track.”
In a series of Twitter updates, Auckland Airport said people were able to leave the airport early on Saturday and go to their homes or accommodation after hundreds spent the night in the terminal.
“It has been a long and challenging night at Auckland Airport, we thank everyone for their patience,” the airport wrote.
“Unfortunately, due to earlier flooding in the baggage area, we are currently unable to return your checked baggage,” the airport wrote. “Your airline will take care of his return later.”
Hundreds of passengers, including a pregnant mother and a woman with a broken ankle, face another night at Auckland Airport amid travel chaos. https://t.co/qYXVT1sQS4
— Stuff (@NZStuff) January 28, 2023
According to local news outlet Stuff, hundreds of passengers waiting to fly will be stuck at the terminal for a second night on Saturday as international departures from Auckland are not expected to resume until early Sunday morning.
The storm also caused the cancellation of Elton John’s concert just before it was scheduled to begin on Friday night. John’s second concert, which was planned at the stadium on Saturday night, was also cancelled. Around 40,000 people were expected to attend each concert at Mt Smart Stadium.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown defended criticism that his office had not communicated the seriousness of the situation well and delayed declaring a state of emergency until around 21:30 (08:00 GMT) on Friday. He said that the time of declaring a state of emergency was determined by experts.
“We’re going to look at everything that happened,” Brown said.