Authorities yesterday said that three people had died and at least one was missing after record levels of rainfall pounded New Zealand’s largest city, causing widespread disruption.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins flew to Auckland on a military plane after a state of emergency was declared in the region.
“Our priority is to ensure that Aucklanders are safe, that they’re housed and that they have access to the essential services that they need,” Hipkins said.
A big cleanup is necessary, and people should remain indoors if possible, he said, adding that another heavy rain is forecast and a break in the weather is likely temporary.
“This is an unprecedented event in recent memory,” Hipkins said.
Friday was the wettest day ever recorded in Auckland, according to weather agencies, as the amount of rain that would typically fall over an entire summer hit in a single day.
More than 15cm of rain fell in just three hours in some places on Friday evening.
The rain closed highways and poured into homes. Hundreds of people were stranded at Auckland Airport overnight after it stopped all flights and parts of the terminal were flooded.
Police said they found a man’s body in a flooded culvert and another in a flooded parking lot, while fire and emergency crews found a third body after a landslide brought down a house in the suburb of Remuera.
One person remained missing after being swept away by flood waters, police said.
Hipkins said power had been restored to most places, although about 3,500 homes remained without electricity.
New Zealand lawmaker Ricardo Menendez posted a video of water surging into houses.
“We’ve just had to evacuate our home as the water was already rising rapidly and coming in aggressively,” he wrote on Twitter.
Crews had responded to more than 700 incidents across the region, and staff had taken more than 2,000 emergency calls, officials said.
“We had every available career and volunteer crew on the road responding to the most serious events,” Fire and Emergency New Zealand district manager Brad Mosby said.
Crews had rescued 126 people who were trapped in houses or cars, or who had been involved in vehicle crashes, Mosby said.
Air New Zealand said it resumed domestic flights in and out of Auckland yesterday afternoon, but was not sure when international flights would resume.
“The flooding has had a huge impact our Auckland operations,” said David Morgan, the airline’s chief operational integrity and safety officer.
“We’re working on getting customers to their final destinations and getting our crew and aircraft back in the right place,” he said, adding that “it might take a few days to get everything back on track.”
In a series of updates on Twitter, Auckland Airport said people were able to leave the airport early yesterday for their homes or accommodation after hundreds spent the night in the terminal.
The storm also caused an Elton John concert to be canceled just before it was due to start on Friday night. A second concert by John that was planned at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday night was also canceled.
About 40,000 people were expected to attend each concert. Thousands were already at the venue on Friday night when organizers decided to cancel not long before John was due to take the stage at 7:30pm.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown defended criticism that his office did not adequately communicate the seriousness of the situation, and held off declaring an emergency until about 9:30pm on Friday.
He said the timing of the emergency declaration was guided by experts.
“We will review everything that took place,” Brown said. “We’ve got to make sure we had the coordination, and the consultation with the public, correct.”
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