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Cyclone Gabrielle devastates New Zealand: At least 9 killed as PM warns figure could rise during search of cut-off communities

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(Sky News) At least nine people have died following Cyclone Gabrielle, which has devastated large parts of New Zealand.

Nearly 5,000 people were registered by police as being out of touch with relatives, and the search continues for about 10 people who are still missing.

Authorities said around 62,000 households were without power nationwide – 40,000 of those being in Hawkes Bay, one of the hardest-hit regions.

New Zealand declared a national state of emergency for only the third time ever this week as Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said Gabrielle was the country’s “biggest natural disaster” this century.

He also warned the number of people declared dead in the disaster could rise as rescue teams try to reach hundreds of cut-off communities.

Intense rain caused the floods, power cuts and landslides and left many families displaced.

The cyclone hit the uppermost part of the North Island on Sunday and swept down the east coast, devastating Hawkes Bay.

Some 26 tonnes of supplies were being sent to the region’s coastal city of Napier as part of an aid effort, New Zealand’s navy said.

Evacuation centres provided shelter for almost 2,000 people in Hawkes Bay – though many are beyond the reach of emergency services, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Meanwhile, Mr Hipkins said the response to the crisis was “still under way and there are people across the North Island working around the clock”.

The country’s air force said helicopters loaded with food and water were travelling to the stranded village of Tutira, about 65 miles (105km) further north.

Ben Green, Civil Defence group controller in Tairawhiti Gisborne, said: “We have our work cut out for us. We’re focused on securing a reliable water supply, reaching isolated people and re-establishing phone and internet connections.”

The cyclone hit on Sunday just two weeks after another fierce storm caused severe flooding and killed four people in the country’s largest city, Auckland.

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