Sydney, Australia, Feb 14 (EFE).- New Zealand declared a national state of emergency on Tuesday for just the third time in history as Cyclone Gabrielle tore a path of destruction across the North Island, causing severe and widespread damage that the country’s prime minister said has not been seen in a generation.
From the early hours of Tuesday morning, roofs have been ripped off buildings, homes submerged and taken down by landslides, trees blown down, and power and communications have been cut in some regions. In some east coast areas, people took to the roofs of submerged buildings to escape fast-rising floodwaters.
“Cyclone Gabrielle is the most significant weather event New Zealand has seen this century. The severity and the breadth of the damage we are seeing has not been experienced in a generation,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said at an evening press conference.
He added that the storm’s impact was “significant and widespread.”
Early in the morning, Minister for Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty declared a national state of emergency, the third in New Zealand’s history after the 2019 Christchurch terror attack and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The declaration applies to the regions of Auckland, Northland, Tairāwhiti, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay and Tararua – covering much of the North Island.
“I want to acknowledge the situation that New Zealanders have been waking up to this morning – a lot of families displaced, a lot of homes without power, extensive damage done across the country,” Hipkins said in the early morning.
Photos posted to social media showed the roofs of houses only visible above submerged homes in the Hawke’s Bay town of Napier, and workers standing on roofs to escape floodwaters in nearby Hastings, as well as burst rivers in Gisborne, all on the island’s east coast.
Also seen were huge waves hitting houses and breaking over waterfront streets in various coastal areas, and roads destroyed by landslides and blocked by debris.
A 22-year-old had to swim from her bedroom window at 4am when the Hawke’s Bay’s Esk River breached its banks, with her neighbor trapped on a roof and another stuck on a tractor on a raised section of gravel, local media outlet Stuff reported.
In west Auckland a volunteer firefighter was missing and one was in critical condition after a landslide crushed a house they were inspecting.
The Navy rescued a sailor from his stricken catamaran in “severe storm conditions” and high seas near islands off Whangarēi, Northland. The boat’s anchor cable had snapped and the boat had drifted out to sea from Great Barrier Island, the defense ministry said.
Some areas on the Coromandel Peninsula were cut off and without internet, as was one of the hardest-hit regions, Gisborne, which was also without power and phone coverage.
National power grid operator Transpower declared a Grid Emergency following the loss of electricity supply to the east coast regions of Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, and warned that residents of those areas may be without power for “days to weeks, rather than hours.”
Energy Minister Megan Woods said 225,000 people in affected areas of the island were without power.
“This is the largest disruption to electricity infrastructure since (the 1988) Cyclone Bola,” Woods said.
The MetService said in its latest update that wind gusts of over 150kph have been recorded in many North Island regions, closer to 170kph in exposed regions.
At least 2,500 people had been displaced, with numbers expected to rise due to communications down in some areas.
Fire and Emergency NZ recorded 1,842 incidents in the past 24 hours.
High winds forced the suspension of ground handling operations at Auckland Airport, which meant the stoppage of all domestic and international flights.
About 200 defense force staff had been deployed to help with the emergency, with hundreds on standby, Defense Minister Andrew Little said. Twenty-two army vehicles were also on the ground.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw had no doubt about the cause of the disaster on Tuesday.
“This is climate change. The impacts will get worse unless we act NOW to cut emissions quickly and adapt communities for the effects already here,” he wrote on Twitter.
Hipkins also said Tuesday morning that “this extreme weather event … probably the biggest we have seen in recent times comes hot on the heels of other extreme weather events that we have seen.”
Auckland is still recovering from the historic floods at the end of last month that left four people dead.
At about 6pm local time, the center of the cyclone was just north of the East Cape, moving in a south-easterly direction away from the country, with weather was expected to ease overnight, Hipkins said. EFE