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New Zealand braces for days of ‘wild weather’

Tens of thousands of people are without power, the government is mulling a national emergency and the full force of ex-Cyclone Gabrielle has yet to hit New Zealand.

On Monday, as the mammoth weather system closed in on the nation, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins urged Kiwis to stay home and avoid non-essential travel.

“We’re still expecting the worst is yet to come,” Mr Hipkins said.

“We have to take seriously the red weather warnings when they’re coming through. It’s a cyclone. It is something that could have a significant effect.”

First identified in the Coral Sea last week, Cyclone Gabrielle has travelled across the South Pacific to sit about 250 kilometres north of Auckland by 4pm Monday (local time).

Cyclone Gabrielle passed over the Australian territory of Norfolk Island on Saturday night as a category two storm with gusts of up to 155km/h.

The cyclone was downgraded to a category one storm after pummelling Norfolk Island at the weekend, and was approaching New Zealand on Monday afternoon.

NZ’s national weather authority MetService said it expected the weather system to move closer to the upper North Island today and on Tuesday.

Impacts are already being felt across northern parts of the North Island, and are expected to spread south across the rest of the North Island through to northern parts of the South Island today and Tuesday,” MetService said.

“This will be a widespread and significant weather event. Significant heavy rain and damaging winds are forecast for many parts of northern and central New Zealand.

“In addition, large waves, storm surges and coastal inundation are expected about exposed eastern coasts of the North Island.”

Meteorologist Angus Hines said in a MetService release that the weather system should not be taken lightly.

“We have a couple more days of wild weather ahead. We’ve never had such an extensive range of red severe weather warnings – which are the highest classification of severe weather warning MetService can issue,” he said.

His MetService colleague Andrew James said the red heavy rain warning for Northland was due to expire at midnight on Monday. But the red strong wind warning would remain until Tuesday night.

”There’ll be a real shift in focus to wind. You can expect severe wind gusts of up to 130-140km/h, especially in the morning,” Mr James said.

Pictured is the weather in New Zealand.

Extreme seas at an Auckland beach as ex-cyclone Gabrielle hits northern NZ. Photo: AAP

Parts of New Zealand told to evacuate

MetService’s red warnings also affect the North Island regions of Auckland and Hauraki Gulf islands, Coromandel, Tairawhiti and Taranaki.

One man is feared dead after a report of a missing boat near Great Barrier Island, with a search deemed unsafe in hazardous conditions.

People in several regions on the North Island have been advised to evacuate.

Emergency services attended more than 220 wind-related callouts overnight.

“Roofs lifting off homes. Windows blown out. A couple of places where trees have fallen on houses. Lots of fallen trees on roads and bringing down powerlines,” Fire and Emergency NZ spokesman Vaughan Mackereth said.

In Whangarei, Northland’s regional capital, residents were told to evacuate ahead of high tide at 2pm, local time.

In 24 hours to 9am on Monday, Whangarei received 184 millimetres of rain, more than twice its average February rainfall.

Some 58,000 people, most from Northland, were without power on Monday due to the damaging winds.

Power is out at Te Aupouri Peninsula, at the very northern tip of the country. Trees have also been uprooted and there is other cyclone damage.

Te Runanga Nui o Te Aupouri chief executive Mariameno Kapa-Kingi, said she had fielded calls from many worried family members.

“Big winds, big winds. Flooding, and power outages eh, cut off comms,” she said of the state of the peninsula.

Others were out clearing trees and checking on elderly residents.

“People are concerned. When will this end? When will our power come back on? What are the conditions going to be like out on the road when I dare to step out my door?” Ms Kapa-Kingi said.

Auckland, where 245 millimetres of rain fell in just 24 hours back in January leading to flooding that killed four people, is also on high alert.

Over the next three days, up to 250 millimetres more is expected, raising concerns of more flooding and landslides.

All major roads in the Coromandel and Tairawhiti regions are already blocked due to slips or treefall, with some localities receiving more than 100 millimetres of rain before noon Monday.

The possibility of a national state of emergency was being reviewed by key officials every four hours, Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty said.

“We have not reached that point and we may not have to. This is an all-of-government response, with all agencies ready to respond as needed,” he said.

Supermarket shelves bare

Speaking to the ABC from Auckland, TVNZ journalist Tessa Parker said the city was “eerie” on Monday.

She said people had been advised to stay at home and avoid travel, while public transport such as ferries and buses were also disrupted. Supermarket shelves had also been stripped bare.

“Aucklanders have been told for about a week now to prepare for the storm,” Parker said.

“Everyone should have about three days worth of food, a week’s worth of medicine and water as well.”

While Auckland Airport remains open, about 500 domestic flights in and out of the city have been cancelled until midday on Tuesday (local time).

New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency said most international flights in and out of Auckland had also been cancelled or delayed.

“For those travelling through Auckland Airport – if you need to shelter in place, Auckland Airport has supplies prepared, and select retailers will remain open,” the agency said on Twitter.

However, people were asked to go to the airport only if they had travel plans.

Cyclone Gabrielle’s effects are likely to be felt across New Zealand until Wednesday. Tracking maps suggest the storm will continue south to the Coromandel before heading east over the Bay of Plenty and Tairawhiti.

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