WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (AP) – Authorities said yesterday 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.
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. He said the city was in for a big cleanup and that people should remain indoors if possible.
He said a break in the weather could prove temporary, with more heavy rain forecast. “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 the entire summer hit in a single day.
On Friday evening, more than 15 centimetres of rain fell in just three hours in some places.
The rain closed highways and poured into homes. Hundreds of people were stranded at Auckland Airport overnight after the airport stopped all flights and parts of the terminal were flooded.
Police said they found one man’s body in a flooded culvert and another in a flooded parking space. They said 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 floodwaters, police said.
Hipkins said power had been restored to most places, although about 3,500 homes remained without electricity. Video posted online showed chest-deep water in some places.
Lawmaker Ricardo Menéndez 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 tweeted.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand said crews had responded to more than 700 incidents across the region and staff had taken more than 2,000 emergency calls.
“We had every available career and volunteer crew on the road responding to the most serious events,” said district manager Brad Mosby.
Mosby said crews had rescued 126 people who were trapped in houses or cars, or who had been involved in vehicle crashes.
Air New Zealand said it resumed domestic flights in and out of Auckland yesterday afternoon, but wasn’t yet sure when international flights would resume.
“The flooding has had a huge impact our Auckland operations,” said the airline’s chief operational integrity and safety officer David Morgan.