New Zealand city grinds to halt as deluge from cyclone looms

Cyclone Gabrielle comes two weeks after a record-breaking storm swamped New Zealand's largest city and killed four people

February 13, 2023 08:53 am | Updated 09:44 am IST - Wellington

Cars move through flooded roads in the northern New Zealand city of Whangarei as Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle hits northland, on February 12, 2023.

Cars move through flooded roads in the northern New Zealand city of Whangarei as Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle hits northland, on February 12, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

Auckland residents hunkered down on February 13 as they braced for a deluge from Cyclone Gabrielle, two weeks after a record-breaking storm swamped New Zealand’s largest city and killed four people.

Much of Auckland ground to a halt as train services were cancelled, libraries and most schools were closed, and authorities asked people to make only essential trips.

Air New Zealand cancelled all domestic flights to and from Auckland through Tuesday morning, as well as many international flights. Some international routes would continue operating, the airline said, although they might need to be diverted from Auckland. The carrier also cancelled domestic flights to and from the cities of Hamilton, Tauranga and Taupo.

In all, Air New Zealand canceled more than 500 flights. More than 10,000 international customers had been affected, the airline said, with thousands still to be rebooked.

The cyclone, which was moving south, dumped more than 220 millimeters (9 inches) of rain in areas north of Auckland, cutting power to about 58,000 households and forcing many roads to close.

About 46,000 homes remained without power on Monday afternoon.

Authorities declared a state of emergency in Northland, Auckland and some other regions, and were asking some residents in low-lying areas to evacuate.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the weather had made the start of the year “incredibly challenging” for people in Auckland and other northern areas.

“Extreme weather event has come on the back of extreme weather event,” Mr. Hipkins said. “For families and businesses, I know that that has been just exhausting, and I want to acknowledge how hard many of them are doing it.”

Also Read | Here’s what’s known about how climate change fuels tropical cyclones

Gabrielle was expected to pass Auckland overnight on Monday. Its windspeed was downgraded as gusts abated to about 130 kmph.

Weather forecaster MetService said there was a very high likelihood of “extreme, impactful, and unprecedented weather" over many regions, with heavy rain, strong winds and large waves.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and some other lawmakers were unable to travel from Auckland to the capital, Wellington, making it likely they would miss this year's opening session of Parliament on Tuesday.

“Please do take this seriously, we do expect severe weather is on the way,” Mr. Hipkins told reporters on Sunday. “So please make sure that you're prepared. Make sure that you've got preparations in place for either if you have to stay put for a period of time, or if you have to evacuate.”

Earlier, the cyclone passed near remote Norfolk Island, a territory of Australia that is home to about 1,750 people.

Emergency Management Norfolk Island Controller George Plant said on Sunday it had issued an all-clear. He said there was some debris on the roads and some power lines were down.

“We have been extremely fortunate with the passage of the cyclone as the most destructive winds have just missed us,” Mr. Plant wrote on Sunday on Facebook. “However, there is still considerable clean-up to be undertaken and it may take a while for services such as power to be restored.”

Two weeks ago, Aucklanders experienced the wettest day ever recorded in the city, as the amount of rain that would typically fall over an entire summer hit in a single day.

Quickly rising floodwaters and landslides killed four people, caused widespread disruption and left hundreds of homes unlivable.

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