Three people have died and at least one person is missing as a result of torrential rain that has caused major flooding and numerous evacuations in New Zealand, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said Saturday.
“The loss of life just underscores the sheer scale of this weather event and how quickly it turned tragic,” Hipkins said in a press briefing after meeting with emergency services and surveying the damage in Auckland. “It’s clear that it’s going to be a big cleanup job.”
He had traveled to Whenuapai, north of Auckland, to visit affected communities, News84Media affiliate Radio New Zealand reported Saturday.
“This is an unprecedented event,” Hipkins, who was only sworn into office this week, wrote on Twitter. “We will get as much support to you as we can.”
Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, has been badly hit by heavy rain and thunderstorms. Friday was the city’s wettest day on record, with an estimated 240mm of rainfall – equal to an entire summer’s worth of rain.
Airport authorities said that terminals and roads were affected by widespread flooding. Photos and videos shared on Twitter showed travelers wading through water in terminals. Thousands had also camped out in the terminals overnight due to the flooding, officials said.
Search and rescue teams said they had responded to more than 400 emergency calls made about the weather.
The airport reopened for domestic flights on Saturday at 12 pm local time and the domestic terminal “is operating as normal,” the airport said in an update on social media.
However, it added that no international flights will be operated at Auckland’s airport on Saturday, with no international arrivals until 7 am local time on Sunday.
“Auckland Airport has been assessing the damage to our international terminal and unfortunately determined that no international flights can operate today,” the airport said on Twitter.
“We know this is extremely frustrating but the safety of passengers is our top priority,” it said.
The rain has since eased. But heavy rain, although not as extreme, is still expected in the coming days, meteorologists said.
Hipkins reiterated the government’s focus on “making sure we support Aucklanders,” while speaking to press alongside Auckland’s mayor and disaster management officials on Saturday.
“In the aftermath, we will have plenty of time to evaluate the response … but for now our focus is on making sure we support Aucklanders through this,” the prime minister said amid questions of whether the government responded quickly enough.
Hipkins said that he had seen the impact the rains have had on communities and that the central government will provide as much support as it can.
He said the government has already made available an initial $100,000 NZD ($64,900 USD) for impacted communities and more funding will be available.
The prime minister also acknowledged the way people have come together “to take care of each other” and reiterated warnings that more bad weather is on the way.
A number of events in the city, including Elton John concerts, have been canceled.
The singer said he was “absolutely heartbroken” that Friday’s concert could not go ahead.
“I was at the venue and determined to play as the weather reports we received in advance weren’t fully conclusive,” he wrote in a post on Instagram.
Concert promoter Frontier Touring confirmed on Twitter that Saturday’s show has also been cancelled.