Cyclone Gabrielle lashes Auckland, homes evacuated, flights disrupted, power cut

A man stacks up sandbags to protect a warehouse before the arrival of Cyclone Gabriele in Auckland
A man stacks up sandbags to protect a warehouse before the arrival of Cyclone Gabriele in Auckland, New Zealand, February 12, 2023. AAP Image/David Rowland via REUTERS

WELLINGTON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Residents in New Zealand's largest city of Auckland and the surrounding area are being told to brace for more heavy rain, flooding and gale-force winds, and some homes are being evacuated, as Cyclone Gabrielle nears the country's coast.

Gabrielle, is currently sitting 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Auckland and is forecast to move close to the east coast over the next 24 hours.

"We expect the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle to get, unfortunately, worse before they get better," said Rachel Kelleher, Deputy Controller Auckland Emergency Management on Monday.

"It's not the time to be complacent," she added.

The cyclone is the second significant weather event to hit Auckland and the upper North Island in just a few weeks. Last month Auckland and surrounding areas were hit by record rainfall that sparked floods and killed four people.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Monday announced a NZ$11.5 million ($7.25 million) package to support community groups such as food banks and to groups impacted by the floods.

On Monday, many schools and local government facilities across Auckland and the upper North Island were closed and people were being asked not to travel if possible.

States of emergency are in place in Auckland and at least six other regions. Around 50 apartments in Auckland have been evacuated because of fears a century-old steel framed tower could collapse.

Further evacuations have been ordered at beachside communities on the east coast ahead of an expected storm surge in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Electricity is out for 46,000 homes, cell service is patchy in some areas and trees have come down and roofs lifted off.

Public transport has been disrupted with ferries, buses and trains either suspended or operating on a reduced schedule.

Air New Zealand has cancelled 509 flights and said flights will resume on Tuesday when the weather is expected to improve.

Police said they were trying to locate a person who was onboard a boat near Great Barrier Island this morning, after responding to reports the boat was in distress.

"The Police Maritime Unit, with assistance from Eagle, have attempted to approach the boat throughout the morning, however conditions have been challenging, and at this stage no one has been located," the said in a statement.

Metservice meteorologist Georgina Griffiths said overnight that Auckland and Great Barrier Island could see heavy rain and winds.

"I think parts of Auckland that have not yet seen challenging wind conditions are expected to see gales overnight," she said.

"Storm surge is still coming and might peak with the high tide at 2am for eastern parts of Auckland."

She added that given Auckland was already saturated, some localised land slides and surface flooding was expected.

($1 = 1.5863 New Zealand dollars)

Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Michael Perry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.