2 dead 2 missing as rain rocks New Zealands largest.webp

3 dead, 1 missing as rain hits New Zealand’s largest city

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Authorities said on Saturday three people had died and at least one was missing after record rainfall hit New Zealand’s largest city and caused 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 Auckland residents are safe, that they are housed and that they have access to the essential services they need,” Hipkins said.

He said the city is facing a major purge and people should stay indoors if possible. He said any change in weather could prove temporary as heavier rains were forecast.

“This is an unprecedented event in recent memory,” Hipkins said.

Friday was the wettest day on record in Auckland, according to weather agencies, as the amount of rain that would normally fall for an entire summer fell in a single day. On Friday evening, more than 15 centimeters of rain fell in some places within just three hours.

The rain blocked highways and poured into houses. Hundreds of people were stranded at Auckland Airport overnight after the airport grounded all flights and parts of the terminal were flooded.

Police said they found the body of one man in a flooded sewer and another in a flooded parking lot. They said one person was missing after being swept away by floodwaters, while another person was missing after a landslide collapsed a house in the Remuera suburb.

Hipkins later said three people were confirmed dead, while at least one was missing. He said power has been restored in most places, although about 3,500 homes remained without power.

The video posted online showed chest-deep water in some places.

MP Ricardo Menéndez posted a video showing water entering houses. “We just had to evacuate our home as the water was already rising rapidly and entering aggressively,” he tweeted.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand said crews have responded to more than 700 incidents across the region and staff have answered more than 2,000 emergency calls.

“We had every available career and volunteer team on the road to respond to the most serious of events,” District Manager Brad Mosby said.

Mosby said crews rescued 126 people trapped in homes, cars, or involved in car accidents.

Air New Zealand said it resumed domestic flights to and from Auckland on Saturday afternoon but was not yet sure when international flights would resume.

“The flooding has had a tremendous impact on our operations in Auckland,” said David Morgan, the airline’s chief operational integrity and safety officer. “We are working to get customers to their final destinations and to get our crew and aircraft back to the right place. It may take a few days for things to get back on track.”

In a series of updates on Twitter, Auckland Airport said people were able to exit the airport early Saturday to get to their homes or accommodation after hundreds spent the night in the terminal.

“It’s been a long and challenging night at Auckland Airport, we thank everyone for their continued patience,” the airport wrote.

“Unfortunately, due to previous flooding in the baggage hall, we are currently unable to return checked baggage to you,” the airport wrote. “Your airline will arrange the return trip at a later date.”

The storm also resulted in an Elton John concert being canceled just before it started on Friday night. A second concert by John, scheduled for Saturday night at the stadium, was also cancelled.

About 40,000 people were expected to attend each concert at Mt Smart Stadium. Thousands were already at the venue on Friday night when organizers decided to cancel just before John was due to take the stage at 7:30pm

Many concert-goers who defied the terms were frustrated that the decision had not been made hours earlier.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown defended criticism that his office had not communicated the seriousness of the situation well and withheld declaring an emergency until around 9:30pm on Friday.

He said the timing of the emergency declaration was guided by experts.

“We’re going to review everything that happened,” Brown said. “We need to make sure we’ve had the coordination and consultation with the public correct.”