WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Three people have died and at least one is missing after record levels of rain battered New Zealand’s largest city, causing widespread disruption, authorities said Saturday.
Prime Minister Chris Hepkins flew to Auckland on a military plane after declaring a state of emergency in the region.
“Our priority is ensuring that Aucklanders are safe, housed and have access to the essential services they need,” Hipkins said.
He said the city was in the process of a major cleanup and that people should stay home if possible. He said the outage in the weather could be temporary, with more heavy rain expected.
“This is an unprecedented event in recent memory,” Hipkins said.
Friday was the wettest day on record in Auckland, according to the weather agencies, beating the amount of rain that normally falls during the entire summer in one day. On Friday evening, more than 15 cm (6 in) of rain fell in just three hours in some places.
Rain blocked highways and poured into homes. Hundreds of people were stranded at Auckland Airport overnight after the airport grounded all flights and parts of the terminal were flooded.
Police said they found the body of a man in a flooded well and another body in a flooded car park. They said one person went missing after being swept away by floodwaters while another remained unidentified after a landslide toppled a house in the suburb of Remoira.
Hipkins later said that three people had been confirmed dead, while at least one was still missing. He said electricity has been restored to most places, although some 3,500 homes remain without power.
A video posted online showed water chest deep in some places.
Legislator Ricardo Menendez posted a video of water flowing into homes. “We just had to evacuate our house because the water was really rising and flowing,” he wrote on Twitter.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand said its crews responded to more than 700 incidents across the region and staff received more than 2,000 emergency calls.
“We had every available staff and volunteer on the road to respond to the most critical events,” said District Administrator Brad Mosby.
Mosby said the crews rescued 126 people who were trapped in homes or cars, or were involved in car accidents.
Air New Zealand said it had resumed domestic flights to and from Auckland on Saturday afternoon, but was not yet sure when international flights would resume.
“The flooding has had a significant impact on our operations in Auckland,” said David Morgan, the airline’s head of safety and operational safety. “We are working to get customers to their final destinations and get our crew and aircraft back to the right place. It may take a few days to get everything back on track.”
In a series of updates on Twitter, Auckland Airport said people were able to leave the airport early Saturday to go home or accommodation after hundreds spent the night in the terminal.
“It has been a long and challenging night at Auckland Airport, we thank everyone for their continued patience,” the airport wrote.
“Unfortunately, due to earlier flooding in the baggage hall, we are currently unable to return checked baggage to you,” the airport wrote. “Your airline will make arrangements for her return at a later date.”
The storm also caused the Elton John concert to be canceled before it was scheduled to start on Friday night. Another concert by John that was planned at the stadium for Saturday night was also cancelled.
About 40,000 people were expected to attend each concert at Mt Smart Stadium. Thousands were already in place Friday night when organizers decided to cancel shortly before John took to the stage at 7:30 p.m.
Many of the concert-goers who faced the circumstances were frustrated that the decision had not been made hours earlier.
Oakland Mayor Wayne Brown defended criticism that his office had not communicated the severity of the situation well and delayed declaring a state of emergency until around 9:30 p.m. Friday.
He said that the timing of the emergency declaration is guided by experts.
“We’ll go over everything that happened,” Brown said. “We have to make sure that the coordination and consultation with the public is right.”