New Zealand declared a National State of Emergency on Tuesday for the third time in its history as Cyclone Gabrielle inches closer to the country.
The cyclone has lashed New Zealand’s North Island with relentless wind, rain and waves since Sunday evening, but conditions overnight Monday into Tuesday morning warranted that the entire country be included within the State of Emergency, officials said.
This “is only the third time in New Zealand history that a National State of Emergency has been declared,” the Minister for Emergency Management, Kieran McAnulty, said in a statement.
The newly signed declaration will enable the New Zealand Government to provide additional resources nationwide and prioritize the response effort in hardest hit areas.
The cyclone is the second significant weather event to hit Auckland and the upper North Island in just a few weeks. Last month Auckland and surrounding areas were hit by record rainfall that sparked floods and killed four people.
Earlier, New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland and the surrounding area was told to brace for more heavy rain, flooding and gale-force winds, while some homes were being evacuated.
Responders are assessing damage to homes around the Muriwai region from landslips brought on by heavy rain, according to a statement from the Auckland Emergency Management. Communities have been reportedly isolated in Piha, Karekare, and Bethells Beach due to flooding.
According to the New Zealand Meteorological Service, this cyclone is a “widespread and significant weather event” and damaging winds and significant heavy rain are ongoing, especially across northern and central New Zealand. Red warnings, the highest alert level issued by the New Zealand Met Service, are ongoing and will last through much of Tuesday.
CNN Meteorologists predict another 24-36 hours of gale force winds to impact the eastern shoreline and adjacent interiors of the North and South Island before gradually tapering off by Wednesday afternoon.
Additional rainfall totals of up to 150mm can be expected across the southeastern regions of the North Island, including Wellington, through Thursday, while lesser totals will accumulate across the South Island, just north of Christchurch.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Monday announced a NZ$11.5 million ($7.25 million) package to support community groups such as food banks and to groups impacted by the floods.
On Monday, many schools and local government facilities across Auckland and the upper North Island were closed and people were being asked not to travel if possible.
States of emergency are in place in Auckland and at least six other regions. Around 50 apartments in Auckland have been evacuated because of fears a century-old steel framed tower could collapse.
Further evacuations have been ordered at beachside communities on the east coast ahead of an expected storm surge in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Electricity is out for 46,000 homes, cell service is patchy in some areas and trees have come down and roofs lifted off.
Public transport has been disrupted with ferries, buses and trains either suspended or operating on a reduced schedule.
Air New Zealand has cancelled 509 flights and said flights will resume on Tuesday when the weather is expected to improve.
Police said they were trying to locate a person who was onboard a boat near Great Barrier Island this morning, after responding to reports the boat was in distress.
“The Police Maritime Unit, with assistance from Eagle, have attempted to approach the boat throughout the morning, however conditions have been challenging, and at this stage no one has been located,” the said in a statement.
Metservice meteorologist Georgina Griffiths said overnight that Auckland and Great Barrier Island could see heavy rain and winds.
“I think parts of Auckland that have not yet seen challenging wind conditions are expected to see gales overnight,” she said.
“Storm surge is still coming and might peak with the high tide at 2am for eastern parts of Auckland.”
She added that given Auckland was already saturated, some localized landslides and surface flooding was expected.
Reporting contributed by Reuters.