New Zealand is facing the possibility of a state of emergency as the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle leaves tens of thousands of households without power, with more difficulties expected as the storm heads south. The cyclone, first spotted in the Coral Sea a week ago, has reached about 200 kilometers northeast of Auckland and is expected to hit the east coast in the next 24 hours. The storm had previously passed over Norfolk Island as a category-two storm, with winds reaching 155 km/h.
Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand’s North Island, is preparing for the full impact of the storm following last month’s record rainfall that resulted in floods and four fatalities. On Monday morning, the NZ meteorological agency, MetService, reported wind gusts of 163 km/h at Channel Island near Coromandel.
The worst of Cyclone, Gabrielle, is expected to hit Auckland, which has a population of 1.6 million people. The city is facing a combination of heavy rain, strong winds, and storm surges, according to Georgina Griffith, a spokesperson for MetService. It began in the Coral Sea, moved through the South Pacific, and eventually came within striking distance of New Zealand’s east coast.
Currently, 58,000 people in Northland are without power due to the damaging winds. Strong winds and rain from the storm resulted in extensive power outages, canceled flights, and closed roads. There are reports of damage to homes, including roofs lifting off and windows breaking, in several areas where homes were evacuated.
Auckland Emergency Management is working to establish 26 emergency shelters to accommodate those affected by the severe weather. In light of the approaching storm, Air New Zealand has canceled multiple international flights, Tasman, Pacific Island, and domestic services to and from Auckland. Auckland Airport has advised travelers to check for updates as airlines announce flight cancellations. The Mayor’s office urges residents to take necessary precautions, such as securing loose outdoor items and removing debris from their homes.
According to MetService, the storm is expected to reach the north end of New Zealand’s North Island, off Cape Reinga, on Sunday afternoon, after moving away from Norfolk Island. On Norfolk Island, located between New Caledonia and New Zealand, authorities are working to clear debris and restore power that was knocked out during the storm. The island’s 2,000 residents were “extremely fortunate” during the passage of the cyclone, authorities said. However, with ongoing clean-up efforts and a forecast of 150-250 mm ( approximately 6-10 inches) of rain over the next three days, there are concerns about further flooding and landslides that could cause damage to infrastructure and homes. Meanwhile, reports of local damage are coming in from different parts of New Zealand. All major roads in the Coromandel and Tairawhiti regions have been blocked due to landslides or fallen trees, with some areas receiving over 100mm (approximately 4 inches) of rain by noon on Monday.
Homes were evacuated in several areas, including Whakatane, Onepoto, Tolaga Bay, and Whangarei, which received 184mm of rain in the 24 hours leading up to 9 am on Monday. According to a Fire and Emergency NZ spokesman, there have been reports of roofs lifting off homes, windows blowing out, trees falling on houses and many fallen trees on roads bringing down power lines. In addition, there is fear for one man’s life after a missing boat was reported near Great Barrier Island, and a search has been deemed unsafe due to the hazardous conditions. Due to the storm, Auckland’s ferries, trains, and intercity buses have been canceled.
To prepare for the storm’s continued southward movement, Cook Strait ferries have also been canceled in advance, and Wellington is expected to experience severe gales on Tuesday. The effects of Cyclone Gabrielle are likely to be felt across New Zealand until Wednesday, and tracking maps suggest that the storm will continue south to the Coromandel, and then head east over the Bay of Plenty and Tairawhiti.
Despite its relatively low intensity, the storm brought the nation heavy rains and high winds, which in some places led to flooding and landslides. Rescue workers and local officials moved swiftly to limit the damage and guarantee public safety.
Cyclone Gabrielle had a considerable overall impact, but it was moderate compared to earlier, more intense storms that had previously hit New Zealand. Strong infrastructure and well-trained emergency response teams within the nation helped limit the damage and prevent more dire repercussions.