New Zealand declares national emergency as Cyclone Gabrielle hits North

New Zealand declares national emergency as Cyclone Gabrielle hits North Island

(CNN) New Zealand declared a national emergency for the third time in its history on Tuesday as Cyclone Gabrielle battered the North Island with wind and rain, knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes.

Wind gusts of over 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour) have been recorded along the coast, with waves reaching nearly 11 meters (36 feet) high off the Bay of Islands, according to the New Zealand Meteorological Service.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the full extent of the disaster only became clear when the country woke up on Tuesday.

“With an event of the size and scale that we have seen in the past 24 hours, we must ensure that we address the most pressing needs across the country as quickly as possible,” he told reporters.

Contractors close flooded roads in Taradale on February 14, 2023 in Napier, New Zealand.

The cyclone is the second significant weather event to hit Auckland and the upper North Island in a few weeks. Record rainfall hit Auckland and the surrounding area last month, triggering flooding and killing four people.

This latest disaster is the third national state of emergency following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and Covid pandemic in 2020 and is due to a weather system off the north of the country moving south and east along the coast.

Overnight, 150 New Zealand Armed Forces personnel banded together to distribute supplies and evacuate residents from areas where rising waters were forcing some homeowners onto rooftops. Tens of thousands of residents have lost power and cell service is patchy in some areas, making it difficult to coordinate services and contact people who are stranded.

A storm-damaged house in Titirangi, a West Auckland suburb in New Zealand, on February 13, 2023.

Several communities and regions have been isolated, the Met Service said in a Facebook post. “Over 30 state road closures and suspension of air, sea and rail traffic for much of the northern half of the North Island,” the post reads.

Air New Zealand canceled all domestic flights to and from Auckland Airport – around 55 – for the remainder of Tuesday due to high winds.

Napier Airport, a regional hub further south, received three times as much rain as the February average — and recorded its second wettest day on record with 175 millimeters of rain in the 24 hours through 9 a.m. local time on Tuesday, the Met Service said.

Red alerts, the highest alert level issued by the New Zealand Met Service, are ongoing and will continue for much of Tuesday.

CNN meteorologists predict another 24 to 36 hours of gale force winds will hit the east coast and adjacent interior of the North and South Islands before gradually easing by Wednesday afternoon.

Additional rainfall totals of up to 150mm are expected in the south-eastern regions of the North Island, including Wellington, through Thursday, while lower amounts of precipitation will accumulate in the South Island north of Christchurch.