Cyclone Gabrielle wreaks havoc across New Zealand’s North Island as evacuations continue

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New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has warned the worst is yet to come as Cyclone Gabrielle sparks evacuations, rising flood waters and power outages across the North Island.

“Things are probably going to get worse before they get better,” Hipkins said. “An extreme weather event led to an extreme weather event.”

The cyclone has hit a region already under water, much of it recovering from devastating floods two weeks ago.

Communities in coastal regions continued to evacuate on Monday, with concerns that a midnight high tide and storm surge would coincide with the worst of the storm. Hipkins warned communities not covered by evacuation orders to “be prepared, stay inside if you can, and have a plan in case you need to move.”

Related: Weather tracker: historic rain destroys New Zealand

The low pressure weather system was creating storm surges – a phenomenon where overall sea levels rise, independent of wave height, inundating coastal areas.

New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) announced a “record” storm surge of 0.7m, as well as waves of up to 12m off the north coast.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered along the entire east coast of the Bay of Plenty – an area covering around 400 homes – as well as for 100 homes in the Whakatane area of ​​the Bay of Plenty region.

Ōpōtiki district council incident controller Gerard McCormack told Radio New Zealand the worst of the cyclone was due to hit around the same time as high tide in the middle of the night.

“We are expecting big sea swells, bays. The rain is coming now,” he said.

Elsewhere, councils asked those in vulnerable areas to evacuate themselves. In the coastal city of Whangārei, the council urged residents of the central business district to evacuate, saying the entire area was at risk of flooding.

By Monday evening, almost the entire top half of the North Island was covered by local states of emergency including Auckland – New Zealand’s largest city with 1.7 million people – and in Northland, Coromandel, Ōpōtiki, Whakatāne, Tairāwhiti and Hauraki.

About 46,000 homes, mostly in Northland, remained without power. Power companies said conditions were very challenging as the storm continued, with trees falling through lines and blocking roads. National forecaster MetService said it broke its record for “red” weather warnings issued across the country, with wind gusts of 150-160km/h recorded.

As evacuation centers prepared packages of food and clothing on Monday afternoon, the government announced an additional $11.5m in funding for cyclone relief – much of it to be distributed to community groups and suppliers, as well as food banks and disability services. Announcing the funds, Hipkins said 25,000 people already needed help with food, clothing, shelter, bedding and lodging.

“Our social service agencies are stretched to capacity,” he said. “A lot of people haven’t been able to catch a break… People have lost their homes and vehicles, families have additional challenges getting children back to school. And there will be worry and distress for many families.

“The need in the community is great, and that has been exacerbated by the repeated weather events.”

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