Cyclone Gabrielle: Thousands not yet contacted after storm in New Zealand

  • By Alexandra Fouché
  • BBC news


Damage from Cyclone Gabrielle can be seen in Hawke’s Bay, one of the hardest hit areas

New Zealand’s prime minister says he expects more deaths from a violent storm that killed eight people and cut off hundreds of communities.

More than 4,500 people have yet to be contacted after Cyclone Gabrielle hit on Monday, causing significant flooding and landslides across the North Island.

Many cities and towns are also without electricity or clean drinking water.

– This is undoubtedly the biggest natural disaster we have seen in this century, said Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

The storm damaged hundreds of cell phone towers, and Hipkins said many of the thousands of uncontactable people are likely to be found alive and well. But he warned that people must “brace themselves” for more fatalities.

Around 10,000 people are also estimated to be on the run.

video caption,

Cyclone Gabrielle: Trapped workers use fridge and mattress to navigate floods

One of the confirmed deaths was a two-year-old girl, whose family saw her swept away by the floodwaters.

Ella Louise Collins, her husband and their two children were trapped in their single-storey home in Hawke’s Bay, one of the worst-hit areas.

“The water was about 10cm (4in) from the ceiling of our house and was rising extremely fast and violently,” she wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday, as quoted by the AFP news agency.

They tried to reach the neighbour’s roof for safety, but were stopped by what Collins called “a sudden rush of water which almost drowned us all”.

The water swept away her daughter Ivy, who drowned.

One woman, Rachel Greene, paid a moving tribute to her mother Marie, whose body was found in the attic of her cottage by her landlord’s son after the cyclone.

It took Rachel four days to find out what had happened, after several phone calls to Marie went to voicemail.

Cyclone Gabrielle is estimated to have affected at least a third of New Zealand’s population of five million.

The storm’s damage has been most extensive in coastal communities on the north and east coast of the North Island – with areas such as Hawke’s Bay, Coromandel and Northland among the hardest hit.

The situation in Hawke’s Bay, a popular tourist destination with some outlying towns, has been of particular concern to the authorities.

On Friday, about 62,000 homes across the country were still without power.

New Zealand declared a national state of emergency on Tuesday, allowing it to streamline its response to the disaster.

The country has only previously declared a national state of emergency on two occasions – during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

New Zealand’s climate minister has attributed the scale of the disaster to climate change.

Cyclone Gabrielle hit New Zealand’s North Island just two weeks after record-breaking rain and flooding in the same region. Four people died in these floods.

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