WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Three people have died and at least one person is missing after record rainfall in New Zealand’s largest city caused widespread disruption, authorities said Saturday.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins flew to Auckland on a military plane after a state of emergency was declared in the region.
“Our priority is making sure Aucklanders are safe, they’re housed and they have access to the essential services they need,” Hipkins said.
He said the city was undergoing a major cleanup and people were asked to stay indoors if possible. He said the break in the weather could prove temporary with heavy rains forecast.
“This is an unprecedented event in recent memory,” Hipkins said.
Friday was Auckland’s wettest day on record, according to weather agencies, the amount of rain that usually falls in one day all summer. On Friday evening, some places received 15 centimeters (6 inches) of rain in just three hours.
The rain closed highways and flooded homes. Hundreds of people were stranded at Auckland Airport overnight as the airport grounded all flights and parts of the terminal were flooded.
Police said one body was found in a flooded canal and another in a flooded parking lot. Fire and emergency workers have found a third body after a landslide collapsed a house on the outskirts of Remuera. The police said that one person has gone missing after being swept away by the flood.
Although 3,500 homes were without power, most have been restored, Hipkins said.
A video posted online showed chest-deep water in some places.
Assemblyman Ricardo Menendez posted a video of homes flooding. “We had to evacuate our home as the water was already rising fast and aggressive,” he tweeted.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand said crews responded to more than 700 incidents across the region and staff took more than 2,000 emergency calls.
“Every professional and volunteer crew we had available responded to a very serious incident on the road,” said District Manager Brad Mosby.
Mosby said crews have rescued 126 people who were trapped in homes or cars or who were involved in vehicle crashes.
Air New Zealand resumed domestic flights in and out of Auckland on Saturday afternoon, but it is not yet certain when international flights will resume.
“The flooding has had a major impact on our Auckland operations,” said David Morgan, the airline’s chief operational integrity and safety officer. “We are working to get customers to their final destinations and get our crews and aircraft back to the right place. It may take a few days to get everything back to normal.
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, thank you all for your continued patience,” the airport wrote.
“Unfortunately, due to earlier flooding in the baggage hall, we are unable to return checked baggage to you,” the airport wrote. “Your airline will make return arrangements later.”
An Elton John concert was canceled shortly before the start of Friday night due to the storm. John’s second concert scheduled for Saturday night at the stadium was also cancelled.
Around 40,000 people were expected to attend each concert at Mount Smart Stadium. Thousands were already at the venue when organizers decided to cancel shortly before John took the stage at 7:30pm on Friday.
Many concertgoers, who braved the conditions, were frustrated that a decision was not made hours earlier.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown defended criticism that his office did not adequately communicate the severity of the situation and held off on declaring a state of emergency until 9:30pm on Friday.
He said the timing of the emergency declaration was guided by experts.
“We will review everything that happened,” Brown said. “We need to make sure we have the coordination and consultation with the public right.”