Thousands go missing in a week after ‘once-in-a-century’ disaster strikes New Zealand

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Thousands of people are still missing a week after New Zealand was struck by an unprecedented extreme weather event.

The level of destruction wrought by Cyclone Gabrielle is being compared to the havoc caused by the country’s most destructive storm, Bola, in 1988.

The cyclone lashed New Zealand’s north coast on 12 February and was dubbed by prime minister Chris Hipkins as the biggest natural disaster the island nation has faced in a century.

Gabrielle has caused widespread flooding, landslides and power outages, with the North Island east coast around New Zealand’s most populous city, Auckland, being the worst hit.

On Sunday, the death toll from the cyclone climbed to 11 and though Mr Hipkins had promised that those missing will likely be found alive, he said police was trying to determine the status of more than 3,000 even as 3,216 others were determined to be okay, reported Reuters.

The cyclone also brought strong wind speeds of about 130km/hr in some places, causing destruction of many crops and the loss of power in about 28,000 homes.

A car stuck in sand is seen in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle in the Esk Valley near Napier on 18 February

More rain fell in some parts of the country in a span of a few days than they usually recieved across all of summer.

Weather reports suggest Auckland had now received around half of its annual rainfall just 45 days into 2023.

The cyclone’s effects were aggravated in some parts of the country, including the hard-hit Hawkes Bay due to rivers breaking their banks.

Police reported the death of two more people from the cyclone in Hawke’s Bay, increasing the toll by three since Friday’s count of eight.

The true extent of the devastation and loss becomes clearer with every passing day,” Mr Hipkins said.

An aerial view shows the damage left by Cyclone Gabrielle in the Esk Valley near Napier on 18 February

Teams are reportedly carrying out assessments on damaged homes in the coastal areas of Muriwai and Piha, about 60km west of Auckland, as military and emergency authorities are dropping critical supplies via helicopter to stranded communities.

Lives have been turned “upside down” by the cyclone, Mr Hipkins said, adding that recovery was going to be a “steep mountain ahead”.

“The police are working to maintain law and order,” he said.