17 February 2023

Death toll from New Zealand cyclone reaches eight

17 February 2023

The death toll from New Zealand’s cyclone has reached eight with more than 4,500 people still unaccounted for four days after the nation’s most destructive weather event in decades, the prime minister said.

Cyclone Gabrielle struck the country’s north on Monday, bringing widespread flooding, landslides and power outages, and the level of damage has been compared to Cyclone Bola in 1988. That storm was the most destructive on record to hit the nation of five million people.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said three more deaths had been confirmed since Thursday and police held “grave fears” for other missing people.

“Police report that there are 4,549 persons reported as uncontactable. A team of 80 people are working now to narrow down this list as quickly as possible and to prioritise contact with those who are most likely to be missing,” he told reporters.

Mr Hipkins said he did not know how far the death toll would climb.

“The thing is we don’t know. We’re not talking huge numbers,” he said.

“It’s not like I’m aware that there are lots and lots and lots out there that we’re not reporting. We’re still picking up one or two (fatalities) at a time.”

Mr Hipkins also said police had not specified to him how many people were considered to be of serious concern, but “there are several people that they are very concerned about”.

A team of 25 Australian disaster response experts arrived on Friday to help local authorities.

The North Island east coast around New Zealand’s most populous city, Auckland, has been hardest hit and several communities remained isolated on Friday.

Auckland was swamped two weeks ago by a record-breaking storm that killed four people.

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