dney, Australia, Feb 15 (EFE).- Cyclone Gabrielle’s trail of destruction across New Zealand’s North Island has left at least four people dead and more than 10,500 displaced as “grave concerns” were held for some of the many still missing on Wednesday.
A national state of emergency was declared on Tuesday morning for the regions of Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Tairawhiti, Hawke’s Bay and Tararua, covering the top half of the North Island.
At least four people have died, and it is feared the death toll will rise in the coming days as the situation can be better assessed and cut-off communities can be accessed.
In the west Auckland seaside suburb of Muriwai, a body found in a landslide has been confirmed as that of a missing volunteer firefighter, Fire and Emergency New Zealand said Wednesday evening. He and a colleague had been inspecting a home when it was hit by a landslide on Tuesday. The colleague remains in critical but stable condition in hospital.
The body of a child, believed to have been caught in rising floodwaters, was found in the Hawke’s Bay settlement of Eskdale on Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty announced two more deaths in the same region – a woman whose home was crushed by a landslide in Putorino, and a body was found on a beach in Napier.
Police said more than 1,440 people were still missing, mainly in the Hawke’s Bay.
“We expect the majority of these people will be accounted for, however there are several people missing for whom police do hold grave concerns,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said. He intends to travel to the impacted regions in the coming days.
About 300 people had been rescued from rooftops in the Hawke’s Bay – 160 people from one large roof alone – as evacuations continued in the region due to rising floodwaters, McAnulty said Wednesday morning.
In Hawke’s Bay alone, more than 9,000 have been displaced, with 10,500 across the country.
More than 700 New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) personnel were participating in the cyclone response, up from an earlier 250, and more than 160,000 homes were still without power.
Some areas remain cut off due to landslides and debris severing roads and bridges, with ongoing power, internet and phone service outages.
“What is of concern is that there are still areas that don’t have power, there are still areas that don’t have communications,” McAnulty said.
An NZDF operation was to begin supplying food and water to the northern coastal Hawke’s Bay town of Wairoa, which remained isolated with patchy electricity, no phone or internet service and only enough food for one day and enough drinking water for two, authorities said.
Gisborne, in Tairawhiti region, was also still cut off, although some power had been restored and the airport cleared for defense force planes to land with supplies. There were also concerns for water shortages there.
Across the Coromandel Peninsula, east of Auckland, the roading network had been “decimated,” and in Northland region there were still massive power cuts, McAnulty said.
In the central North Island near the town of Turangi, the cyclone cut a path through a massive pine forest, snapping trees in half as it went, with one resident saying it sounded like “the loudest gunshots you’ve ever heard,” and another describing it as “more like a tornado,” Stuff reported.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Princess Anne, sister to King Charles, met with first responders and the prime minister in the Beehive’s bunker in Wellington on Wednesday as she began a scheduled visit to the country.
“I am impressed by the major efforts being undertaken by first responders, local and national agencies to ensure the best possible support for everyone, especially those still at risk,” she said in a statement posted by the NZ Defense Force.
“I admire the courage of the people of Aotearoa during this alarming and difficult time. You should all be proud of the resilience, strength and care for your communities you are showing in the face of adversity. Kia Kaha (stay strong).”
Hipkins has called Cyclone Gabrielle the most significant weather event in New Zealand this century, with Climate Change Minister James Shaw point out that “this is climate change.”
McAnulty said the cyclone had moved off the coast of New Zealand Wednesday and the worst of the storm was over, but “we’re not out of danger yet”.
The country’s meteorological service said heavy rain will continue to impact central New Zealand until Thursday and large waves, storm surges and coastal inundation were affecting exposed coasts of the North Island. EFE