‘Unprecedented’ flash floods and landslides bring Auckland to grinding halt for third day

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At least one man has been killed due to flash floods and landslides in New Zealand, taking the total death toll to four in the country’s North Island area that is reeling under heavy rain for the third consecutive day.

Police officials confirmed that the death of a man who went missing after being swept away by floods on Friday at Onewhero village, about 70km south of Auckland.

“The most horrific part of it [rains and floods] is that we’ve lost lives,” deputy prime minister Carmel Sepuloni said in Auckland.

Newly appointed prime minister Chris Hipkins said the flood impact was “unprecedented” for the city in recent memory as he flew by helicopter over Auckland on Saturday and visited flood-hit homes.

New Zealand’s largest city – home to 1.6 million – has been battered by heavy rain since Friday, pushing the north island under a state of emergency.

Officials at the national weather forecaster MetService warned that severe weather for the region will continue onto Monday.

A property in Remuera where an a man was found dead after a landslide hit his house is seen on 29 January in Auckland (Getty Images)
A property in Remuera where an a man was found dead after a landslide hit his house is seen on 29 January in Auckland (Getty Images)

“A slow-moving front drifting west should pass over northern Auckland and Northland from this evening till Monday morning. Thunderstorms are possible with this front, some of which may be SEVERE,” the latest warning by MetService said on Sunday.

It added that “regardless of whether thunderstorms occur or not, there is the possibility of downpours, with intensities of 20 to 40mm per hour, especially between 9pm Sunday and 10am Monday, although conditions may ease slightly earlier in Auckland.”

They warned of surface and flash flooding triggered by intense rainfall.

“Rainfall of this intensity can cause surface and/or flash flooding, especially in low-lying areas such as streams, rivers or narrow valleys, and may also lead to slips. Driving conditions will also be hazardous with surface flooding and poor visibility in heavy rain,” the weather alert read.

“We know that there is potential for more adverse weather tonight,” said Rachel Kelleher, Auckland emergency management controller.

According to the state of emergency alert issued late on Saturday for large swathes of North Island, with Waitomo district – about 220km (140 miles) from Auckland – expected to receive heavy rainfall and thunderstorms.

Police officials said they were assisting with traffic management and road closures in Waitomo as heavy rain had caused “numerous slips, flooding and damage to roads” on Sunday.

Widespread flooding was also reported in the nearby Bay of Plenty area, police said, adding that a landslide had knocked down a house and was threatening the safety of surrounding properties.

At least thousands of these properties have been left without power and hundreds without water, officials said.

The climate crisis has led to episodes of heavy rain becoming more common and more intense in New Zealand, though the impact varies by region.

New Zealand’s Climate Change minister James Shaw noted the link to the climate crisis on Saturday when he tweeted his support for those affected by flooding.