(Al Jazeera) Three people have died and at least one is missing after record levels of rainfall triggered flash floods in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, causing widespread disruption, including the closure of the airport and evacuation from homes.
A state of emergency remained in place in the city of 1.6 million people on Saturday as the torrential rains eased after Friday’s downpour and flooding, which marked the wettest day ever recorded in Auckland, according to weather agencies. The amount of rain that would typically fall during the entire summer hit the area in a single day with more than 150mm (6 inches) of rain falling in just three hours in some places.
Highways were closed and floodwater poured into homes. Hundreds of people were stranded at Auckland Airport overnight after parts of the terminal were flooded and flights cancelled.
Police said they found a man’s body in a flooded culvert and another in a flooded car park. They said one person was missing after being swept away by floodwaters, while another remained unaccounted for after a landslide brought down a house in the suburb of Remuera.
While the heavy rain had eased on Saturday, another spell of downpours was possible on Sunday, the national weather forecaster said, adding that its effect was “expected to be severe and wide-reaching because of the saturated ground”.
“Our priority is to ensure that Aucklanders are safe, that they’re housed and that they have access to the essential services that they need,” New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.
He said the city was in for a big cleanup and that people should remain indoors if possible. “This is an unprecedented event in recent memory,” Hipkins said.
Air New Zealand said it had resumed domestic flights in and out of Auckland on Saturday afternoon but was not yet sure when international flights would resume.
“The flooding has had a huge impact on our Auckland operations,” said David Morgan, the airline’s chief operational integrity and safety officer. “We’re working on getting customers to their final destinations and getting our crew and aircraft back in the right place. It might 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 on Saturday for their homes or accommodation after hundreds spent the night in the terminal.
“It’s been a long and challenging night at Auckland Airport, we thank everyone for ongoing patience,” the airport wrote.
“Unfortunately, due to earlier flooding in the baggage hall, we are currently unable to return checked luggage to you,” the airport wrote. “Your airline will make arrangements for its return at a later time.”
According to the local news outlet Stuff, hundreds of expectant flyers would be stuck in the terminal for a second night on Saturday as international departures from Auckland were not expected to resume until early Sunday morning.
The storm also caused an Elton John concert to be cancelled just before it was due to start on Friday night. A second concert by John that was planned at the stadium on Saturday night was also cancelled. About 40,000 people were expected to attend each concert at Mt Smart Stadium.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown defended criticism that his office did not communicate the seriousness of the situation well and held off on declaring an emergency until about 9:30pm (08:00 GMT) on Friday. He said the timing of the emergency declaration was guided by experts.
“We will review everything that took place,” Brown said.