WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Two people have died and two others are missing as torrential rains and flooding continue to cause widespread disruption to New Zealand’s largest city, police said Saturday.
Authorities declared a state of emergency in the Auckland region and new Prime Minister Chris Hepkins flew to the city on a military plane to assess the damage. Hipkins was sworn in to the top job on Wednesday after Jacinda Ardern resigned.
The rain hit town quickly, Hipkins said. “Oaklanders need to prepare for the fact that there may be more rain,” he said.
Earlier, 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 Friday evening in a flooded well and the body of another man early Saturday in a flooded parking lot, and they are continuing to investigate the death.
Police said a third man went missing after being swept away by floodwaters, while a fourth person remained unidentified after a landslide toppled a house in the suburb of Remoira.
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.”
On Friday, the airport said it had reduced its runway operations after an incoming plane damaged the runway lighting.
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.
The concert was described as John’s final farewell tour. Frontier Touring, one of the concert’s promoters, tweeted that the concert had been canceled due to unsafe weather conditions.
Many of the concert-goers who faced the circumstances were frustrated that the decision had not been made hours earlier.
Weather agency MetService warned of flash floods and hazardous driving conditions. On Friday night, transit authorities shut down parts of State Highway 1, the main highway that divides Oakland.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown told Radio New Zealand, “We need the rain to stop. That’s the main issue.”
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