By Avellon Williams
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – New Zealand declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after cyclone Gabrielle swept away roads, flooded homes, and knocked out 225,000 people’s power.
As heavy rain and strong winds battered the North Island of New Zealand, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins called it the “most significant weather event New Zealand has ever dealt with this century”. “The impact is significant and it is widespread,” he said. “The severity and the damage that we are seeing has not been experienced in a generation.”
The severity of the storm was revealed on Tuesday, when roads were ravaged by landslides and collapsed homes were covered in mud, silt, and storm debris. As a result of fallen trees and floodwaters, several major roads were blocked, leaving communities stranded.
People were forced to swim from their homes to safety, according to local media. Several people waded through the storm waters while others took shelter in place.
It is estimated that approximately 2,500 people have been displaced from their homes, but that number may rise. Almost three-quarters of New Zealand’s five million residents live on the North Island, where the brunt of the storm is being felt and where some areas still lack power and telecommunications.
A major road linking Wellington and Auckland, the country’s largest city, is closed. The three main mobile phone networks in New Zealand reported 455 cell sites were unavailable. As a result, international and domestic flights have been grounded, with Air New Zealand reporting more than 600 cancelled flights and more than 35,000 passengers affected, but airports are slowly reopening.
In addition to the military being deployed to assist in evacuations, Fire and Emergency New Zealand reports that one firefighter has been injured and another has gone missing following a house collapse located west of Auckland. Efforts are being made to find the victims.