Storm Lashes New Zealand, killing three and disrupting flights

(Bloomberg) – Auckland has been left reeling after an intense summer storm hit New Zealand’s biggest city, killing three people and prompting the international airport to halt flights.

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A state of emergency is in place in the South Pacific city of around 1.6 million people after as much as 153mm (6 inches) of rain fell in just three hours on Friday evening. That’s almost triple the amount that would normally occur throughout January, research institute NIWA said in a Twitter post. It is also Auckland’s wettest day on record, the MetService said.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed that three people died in the flooding and at least one other person is missing.

“I’ve just looked at some of the extensive damage on the ground and in the air, it’s clearly going to be a big cleanup job,” Hipkins told a news conference in Auckland after flying from Wellington aboard a Defense Force aircraft. “The loss of life underscores the scale of this weather event and how quickly it has become tragic.”

Hipkins also warned Aucklanders that more bad weather was expected.

Auckland Airport reported a record 249mm of rain in 24 hours. International and domestic terminals were closed and at least 2,000 travelers remained stranded in flooded buildings until the early hours of Saturday morning.

While domestic flights resumed on Saturday afternoon, the international terminal remains closed, with no departures expected to take place before 5:00 a.m. local time on Sunday and no arrivals before 7:00 a.m.

“What we discovered is that the overnight flooding had a significant impact on a number of critical components of our airport terminal infrastructure,” said Carrie Hurihanganui, airport general manager. from Auckland. “We worked with urgency today to try to get everything dry, tested and working again, but our assessment is that we need more time to make sure everything is working well and, more importantly, safe, before resuming international operations.”

The storm is the latest example of extreme weather events that have become increasingly common around the world due to climate change and the third consecutive year of La Nina – something that has only happened twice since 1950 .

Flooding in Auckland has impacted the power grid and caused widespread outages, particularly in western Auckland, the electricity company Vector said on Saturday. By late morning, nearly 23,000 homes and businesses had their power restored and around 3,500 were still without power.

New Zealand’s MetService said the storm was caused by warm air descending from the tropics, bringing the “heavy rain with integrated thunderstorms”. More rain is expected on Saturday.

The event flooded homes around Auckland and left cars floating on roads, while emergency services kayaked door-to-door as part of rescue efforts. Elton John’s concert at Mt Smart Stadium was canceled just minutes before the singer was due on stage, and his second show in Auckland was canceled on Saturday.

–With the help of Muneeza Naqvi.

(Updates with comment from Hipkins, Auckland Airport)

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