Cyclone Gabrielle pounded the North Island with wind and rain, knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and killing three people. New Zealand declared a National State of Emergency for the third time in its history. Several waves are close to 11 meters high off the Bay of Islands, due to winds gusting over 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour).
The full extent of the catastrophe became apparent as the country awoke Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said. “In the wake of such a huge event in the last 24 hours, it is imperative that we address the most pressing needs across the country as soon as possible,” he told reporters.
The cyclone is the second significant weather event to hit Auckland and the upper North Island in recent weeks. A record amount of rainfall hit Auckland and surrounding areas last month, causing floods that killed four people. As a result of a weather system off the country’s north that is tracking south and east along the coast, this is the third national state of emergency since the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Rising water forced some homeowners onto their roofs overnight, prompting the New Zealand Defence Force to distribute supplies. Cell service is patchy in some areas, making it difficult to coordinate services and contact stranded residents. Met Service Facebook post said several communities were isolated. Over 30 state highways were closed and air, sea, and rail transportation was disrupted on the North Island.
Strong winds at Auckland Airport forced Air New Zealand to cancel all domestic flights to and from the airport for the remainder of Tuesday. Napier Airport, a regional hub further south, was soaked by three times the average amount of rain in February – and experienced its second wettest day ever, with 175 millimeters of rain in 24 hours to 9 am Tuesday, according to the Met Service.
By Wednesday afternoon, CNN meteorologists predict that another 24-36 hours of gale force winds will hit the eastern shoreline and adjacent interiors of the North and South Islands. Up to 150mm of additional rainfall is expected across the north-eastern region of the North Island, including Wellington, and over the southern region of the South Island, just north of Christchurch.