Deadly flooding leaves thousands stranded in New Zealand

A state of emergency was declared in the New Zealand city of Auckland after record-breaking torrential rainfall resulted in several deaths since Friday. More than a foot of rain poured down across the city, prompting the closure of some major highways, multiple water rescues and even the cancellation of an Elton John concert that was expected to draw 40,000 fans.

Police were notified just before 7:30 p.m. of a body found in the floodwaters, Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown confirmed late Friday evening, the New Zealand Herald reported. The identity of the victim, who was found in a culvert, has not been released, according to the Herald.

Police recovered a second body in a flooded carpark, according to the Associated Press. Fire and emergency response crews announced a third fatality after responding to a landslide that caused major damage to a home in Remuera, an inner-city suburb of Auckland. On Sunday, a fourth fatality was declared as the flooding and landslides continued to impact the north island, according to Rueters.

Videos shared online showed people wading through waist-deep water as the heavy deluge of rain made highways and local roads impassable to vehicles. Numerous shelters were opened across the city to assist with people displaced by the flooding. More than 2,000 calls for assistance were made in Auckland as of Saturday, with at least 70 evacuations made, according to the New Zealand Herald.

"The feedback we've had from people on the ground in Auckland is that when the rain hit, it hit very hard and very fast," New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said in a press conference, according to 1 News.

Rainfall totals surpassed the 1-foot mark across the city. Beach Haven, located just north of downtown Auckland, measured 14.56 inches of rain by 8:30 p.m. Friday. Just north of Beach Haven, in Albany, New Zealand, 14.53 inches of rain fell on Friday.

Reported rainfall totals as of early Saturday local time in the Auckland, New Zealand, area.

At the Auckland Airport, where the heavy rain flooded terminals, 9.8 inches of rain fell, breaking the 24-hour rainfall record that dates back nearly 40 years. The previous record was 6.37 inches which fell during a 24-hour period on Feb. 16, 1985.

A video shared on Twitter showed the inside terminal at Auckland Airport inundated with floodwaters on Friday. Air New Zealand resumed international flights in and out of the airport at 12 p.m. Sunday, local time.

According to the weather service in New Zealand, Auckland observed 79% of its normal summer rainfall amount in just 15 hours on Friday. Albany recorded 75% of its average summer rain.

Despite the relentless rain, many Elton John concert ticketholders braved the conditions on Friday evening to travel to Mt. Smart Stadium in Auckland. However, just minutes after the scheduled start time of 7:30 p.m. and while thousands of people were already at the venue, concert promoter Frontier Touring announced the show would be canceled due to "unsafe weather conditions."

Many concertgoers voiced their disappointment and frustrations on Twitter. One user wrote that concert organizers shouldn't have waited until the last minute to cancel the concert.

"Should have been canceled earlier," a Twitter user wrote. "We have traveled down from Northland and can't get home...Thankfully have friends to help us, but there will be hundreds of out-of-town people stuck."

"You really should have made this decision sooner," another Twitter user wrote. "Not when the water got up to people's ankles."

Also canceled were all domestic and international flights at Auckland Airport until Saturday after an arriving aircraft damaged the runway lighting amid the heavy rain. Inside the airport, terminals were inundated with floodwaters, and the international terminal was closed after floodwaters covered the ground.

More than 2,000 travelers and airport staff were stranded at the airport after heavy rains cut off roadways, 1 News reported.

"This is not the start any of us wanted for the long weekend in Auckland. We want to genuinely thank travelers for their patience overnight," Auckland Airport Chief Executive Carrie Hurihanganui said, according to 1 News.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Brown was under increasing pressure to declare a state of emergency as the rain poured down on the city on Friday. Brown defended his decision of waiting until close to 10 p.m. Friday to declare a state of emergency in a press conference, noting the process is a "formal process, not to be taken lightly."

"This is a formal, serious business, and the effects of it will go on for some time," Brown said at a press conference." And my role isn't to rush out with buckets. It's to be here ensuring that the [center] is well [organized] and that we are taking the appropriate steps at the appropriate time, not rushing into them in response to noise outside."


AccuWeather International Meteorologist Jason Nicholls said the heavy rain in Auckland was a result of moisture from a former tropical depression.

"A low that was a former tropical depression slowly drifted southeast toward New Zealand's northern island," Nicholls said, noting the system was fueled with tropical moisture.

Nicholls said that the Auckland area typically experiences wetter weather in the winter compared to the summer. But since this is the time of year when there is tropical development in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, some tropical systems can drift as far south as New Zealand, delivering tropical moisture to the area during the summer months.

"Additional showers are likely this weekend," Nicholls noted. "There is a risk of heavier rain on Tuesday, but nothing like what [Auckland] just experienced."

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