New Zealand has declared a state of emergency as Cyclone Gabrielle wreaked havoc the country, with schools facing closure.
The cyclone has battered the North Island with strong winds, rain, and waves since 12 February, but it wasn’t until 13 February that the entire country was included within the state of emergency.
This is only the third time in the history of New Zealand that such an action has been taken.
The state of emergency allows the government to allocate extra resources nationwide and prioritise the response effort in the most affected areas.
The cyclone is the second significant weather event to hit Auckland and the upper North Island in a few weeks. Auckland and surrounding areas were hit by heavy rain, which caused floods and claimed four lives last month.
Communities have been isolated in Piha, Karekare, and Bethells Beach due to flooding. The New Zealand Meteorological Service has issued red warnings, the highest alert level, and has said that this cyclone is a “widespread and significant weather event.”
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.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced an NZ$11.5 million (£6 million) package on 13 February to support community groups such as food banks and groups affected by the floods. Many schools and local government facilities across Auckland and the upper North Island were closed on the day, and people were asked not to travel if possible.
“Our immediate focus has been undertaking lifesaving missions for those affected by the floods who needed to be rescued,” said PM Hipkins, adding that all people stranded on roofs by floodwaters have been rescued.
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In the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, schools across New Zealand are deciding whether to reopen, and some have no electricity or water or both. The principal of Hora Hora School in Whangārei, Pat Newman, said that the majority of schools in the area would remain closed on 15 February, and about half of his staff would not be able to make it to work due to blocked roads across Northland.
In contrast, the Head of the Secondary Principals’ Association, Vaughan Couillault, said that for almost everyone in Tāmaki Makaurau, it is business as usual, and he is looking forward to getting back to work.