A person has died after torrential rain lashed Auckland and the upper North Island, triggering a state of emergency in the region.
The wild weather and heavy rain have caused widespread damage across the region, with flooding, evacuations and transport chaos. State Highway 1 north of Auckland is closed, and officials opened the new Puhoi motorway to rescue stranded motorists overnight. Auckland Airport is closed until at least midday on Saturday because of flooding, with no international or domestic flights departing or arriving.
MetService said a record amount of rain had fallen on Auckland in 24 hours - by 1am, the region had recorded 249mm of rain, smashing the previous 24-hour record of 161.8mm, back in February 1985. And monthly records have also been broken - the wettest January recorded at the Auckland Airport weather station until now was in 1986 with 20cm and the wettest month ever was July 1998 with 30cm. So far this month 32cm of rain has been recorded - a “massive” amount, MetService said.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Civil Defence Minister Kieran McAnulty spoke at the National Crisis Management Centre in the early hours of Saturday morning to address the regional state of emergency.
Hipkins told journalists just before 2am it was difficult to gauge how many people had been impacted by the flooding and torrential rain in Auckland.
He said he didn’t know how many people had been injured and likely wouldn’t know until the morning. He said there were close to 1000 people stranded at the airport and a lot of other people who were stuck. “My message to Aucklanders is to be kind to each other and offer support to one another,” he said.
Hipkins said he would be heading to Auckland first thing on Saturday morning and will offer further support. “Once the sun comes up we’ll know a little bit more about what we’re dealing with and the true extent of the challenge that is ahead for Auckland,” he said.
“When the rain hit, it hit very hard and very fast ... Aucklanders need to brace for the fact there could be more rain,” he said. “This is quite unprecedented.”
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The Minister for Civil Defence said once Mayor Wayne Brown declared an emergency, it allowed NEMA to help with the response.
NEMA have sent up personnel and the Defence Force.
”That was his call,” Kieran McAnulty said when asked about the timing of Brown declaring the state of emergency. ”We were ready ... there will be a review, there always is. In terms of determining whether that declaration was made early enough, that’s for later,” McAnulty said.
Hipkins said he expected as much information should be released as quickly as possible. ”If you’ve got somewhere safe, try to get some sleep,” he said.
Hipkins said they could look back on the timing of the declaration of state of emergency in due course. For now, the focus had to be on what was ahead.
McAnulty said he called Brown and was in touch with his office throughout the afternoon.
“If the mayor had refused to declare [a state of emergency] and I felt it was warranted, I would have stepped in. When he’s saying ‘I’m looking at it’ you take it at face value,” McAnulty said.
Hipkins said there are around 1000 people stranded at Auckland Airport.
The PM said he personally didn’t have any communication with Brown.
Meanwhile, the police said flooding and slips in Dome Valley, Puhoi and the Brynderwyns closed State Highway 1 in both directions.
Northern and Southern Motorways in Auckland were also closed due to flooding.
Police said they were aware that a large number of motorists were stranded in the Warkworth area without food or accommodation, and were working in conjunction with Auckland Transport to facilitate their travel back home.
“We are working to resolve this and get traffic moving as quickly and safely as possible,” the police said in a statement.
“The new motorway, between Puhoi and Warkworth, has been temporarily opened to divert traffic and help ease heavy congestion.
“This detour is to assist trapped motorists only, beyond this SH1 remains closed.
“Motorists wanting to travel between Auckland and Northland will not be able to use this diversion.
“Drivers are asked to remain patient while the backlog of traffic clears.
Police said they continue to respond to a large number of weather-related call-outs and incidents across the wider Auckland area.
“Our staff are working with Civil Defence Emergency Management, local councils and other agencies in response,” he said.
Mayor Brown defends state of emergency timing
Earlier, Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown defended the time it took to declare a state of emergency in the city and says he couldn’t have acted any sooner.
His role wasn’t to “rush out with buckets”, he said.
Two more Civil Defence centre have also been opened for those who have been displaced - one at North Shore Events Centre and another at Manu Takutaku, 32 Riverton Drive, Randwick Park. Another centre at Saint Leonard’s Road School in Kelston opened earlier this evening.
Auckland Airport, in its latest update, said no international or domestic flights would arrive or depart before noon Saturday.
“Roads at Auckland Airport continue to be impacted by widespread flooding, along with the check in and arrivals areas of the international terminal, an airport spokeswoman said.
A state of emergency was declared close to 10pm, hours after torrential rain and flooding hit the city. A body was found in the floodwaters, Brown confirmed in a press conference after 11pm.
Police were notified at around 7.25pm after a body was seen by a member of the public, near Target Rd in Wairau Valley. The Herald understands the body was found in a culvert.
Brown extended sympathies to the person’s family. He defended the speed of his declaration of the state of emergency.
“There has been some speculation, I could have acted sooner, but I couldn’t have. This is a formal process, not to be taken lightly,” he said during his press conference.
Brown said the declaration has consequences.
”And so I’ve listened to the professionals in the field. The professionals who’ve been out there reporting back to their control centre. We have been on standby to receive the correct time for me to sign it, and immediately after I was given that call to make that decision, I did.”
Brown said he’s confident he did the right things at the right time in the first big event to hit Auckland under his watch.
”Everybody finds these [events] very traumatic and difficult and you have to take your role seriously.
”And my role isn’t to rush out with buckets. It’s to be here ensuring that the centre is well organised and that we are taking the appropriate steps at the appropriate time, not rushing into them In response to noise outside.”
“This is a formal serious business, and the effects of it will go on for some time.”
Brown said the weather event is “as intense as anything we’ve seen, but it covered a much wider region than what has happened before”.
”I personally I have been involved in one or two in the past, and careful assessment is important, careful steps, not rushed steps.”
Fire and Emergency says it is dealing with an estimated 1500 calls for help.
Brown says he will be going out at daylight to see the communities affected.
”It’ll be a major, major job. And I’ll take advice from the experts.”
Brown said the state of emergency reflects the extent of damage, displacement and disruption caused by this evening’s severe weather event and enables emergency services and response agencies to draw on resources, and enact additional powers, to assist affected Aucklanders,” Brown said.
“The region has experienced widespread damage from flooding and torrential rain, with reports of slips and inundation. Infrastructure and emergency services alike have been overwhelmed by the impacts of the storm. The declaration of state of local emergency comes into force immediately and expires in seven days,” he said.
West Auckland MP and Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni urged people who have evacuated their homes to go to St Leonards Road School in Kelston where a Civil Defence centre has opened.
”There is an evacuation centre open here for whanau who don’t have anywhere else to go that have had to evacuate their homes,” said Sepuloni.
She urged people to go to friends or family’s homes if they are able to.
”I know that the weather has affected a whole lot of whanau in our communities out there,” she said.
Vector said it has been asked by emergency services to shut down power to flood-hit zones in Auckland.
”The flooding has made it difficult for our crews to safely reach some of the outages, including in the Swanson area, and they will be unable to do so until the water has gone, hopefully by the morning. We urge everyone to take extreme care, avoid floodwaters and stay well clear of fallen power lines or damaged electrical equipment, and treat them as live at all times,” Vector said.
Brown under pressure
Brown was earlier under increasing pressure to declare a state of emergency before he announced the move. National Party leader Christopher Luxon urged the mayor to make the call.
”High tide hits after midnight and we need a list of evacuation centres for folk to head to,” he said in a tweet.
A state of emergency would “give our brilliant emergency response teams the tools they need to respond,” he said.
Auckland Councillor Jo Bartley had also urged Brown on social media to declare a state of emergency.
“You just have to look online to see the chaos out there. No need to wait. Declare state of emergency,” she tweeted.
Auckland Emergency Management’s duty controller Andrew Clark says the region is expecting the severe weather to continue until the early hours of tomorrow.
”There are reports that some parts of the region have experienced a summer’s worth of rain in a few hours and that has resulted in significant flooding.”
“We continue to urge people to be vigilant and keep an eye on the weather forecast and your property.
”If it is safe to stay home, please do so. If you need to evacuate and can stay with family and friends, please do so in the first instance,” he said.
”If you have nowhere to go or are in need of assistance, we have established a Civil Defence Centre at Kelston.”
He urged people not to drive through floodwaters.
”If you do need to evacuate, please take essential items, like medicines, with you.”
Senior Labour Minister and MP for Mount Roskill, Michael Wood, said it was “the worst flooding I have ever seen and more may come overnight”.
“The best advice remains that issued by Auckland Emergency Management.
“This is a serious event and authorities are co-ordinating. If you need help then don’t delay. Call someone with the means to assist or if serious, emergency services.”
Earlier in the evening Police, Fire and Emergency, USAR and Civil Defence were called to Shore Road, which runs along Hobson Bay and the Orakei Basin where a slip has come down on a house there.
Across the city at Mairangi Bay on the North Shore, a resident reported seeing the local Surf Lifesaving crew dragging the inflatable rescue boats through flooded streets to assist with rescuing stranded people.
Green MP Ricardo Menendez March posted to Twitter that he was among the Aucklanders being evacuated.
Flooding has also swamped Auckland Airport, and is knee-deep in some areas.
“A short time ago, we made the decision to close the international terminal check-in area to visitors due to flooding inside the building,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
At least two supermarkets have been flooded with photos posted to social media showing water snaking through aisles.
Meanwhile, residents in flood-prone areas of West Auckland are being asked to prepare to evacuate with the city’s mayor telling residents to stay safe and follow instructions of emergency workers.
It comes as Fire and Emergency assistant area commander Chris Delfos says a weather bomb hit from Massey to Swanson leaving people trapped on roofs and in their cars.
He said firefighters used jet skis, inflatable rescue craft and kayaks to pluck people to safety.
Across the city fire crews are dealing with more than 1000 calls for assistance, many relating to flooded property.
Counties Manukau District Manager Brad Mosby is urging people to only phone 111 if life is in danger.
”When people phone with non-urgent requests for help with flooding, it stops people who urgently need help from getting through.”
Heavy rain is continuing to hammer the region with suburbs across the city affected by flooding. Many rivers and streams have burst their banks. Forecaster Weatherwatch.co.nz said the heavy falls should start to ease in the north, but may linger longer south and east.
Auckland Emergency Management activated its Emergency Coordination Centre earlier today.
Duty Controller Andrew Clark said it is an evolving situation and that they are working with partner agencies to monitor the situation on the ground and to establish what assistance is required.
Auckland Emergency Management tonight warned the severe weather across the city was worsening and it was trying to assess what action was needed.
It warned those in flood-prone areas to prepare to evacuate and warned others to stay home as the torrential rain worsened, saying people should check on friends and neighbours if it was safe to do so.
Civil Defence said people should keep off the roads and out of flood zones: “Do not drive through flood waters.”
It said people should listen for any updates on the radio and should plan for evacuations, ensuring they had essential items like medication ready to go.
Earlier in the night fans heading to the Elton John concert at Auckland’s Mount Smart stadium were told the gig had been cancelled at the last minute.
Many downtown Auckland streets are awash with flooding including Queen and Stanley Sts.
The torrential rain has seen a supermarket in Auckland’s North Shore flooded along with the seaside village of Mairangi Bay where water is pouring into shops.
Countdown Mairangi Bay was flooded with a number of cars trapped in the carpark.
On Wairau Rd a car with a driver in it could be seen drifting down the road after becoming stuck in the water.
Vehicles were also be seen floating in floodwaters in Sunnynook on Auckland’s North Shore.
Auckland’s northern motorway ground to a halt north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge due to flooding at rush hour with stranded bus passengers forced to walk to safety.
Earlier rising floodwaters have left streets and homes swamped in Ranui with every fire truck in the city responding to emergency callouts. Firefighters have used ropes to rescue stranded people from swamped homes.
As well as west Auckland, there is significant flooding on North Shore streets around Milford. Videos and photo show streets swamped with water.
This evening flooding on State Highway One north of the harbour bridge left lanes blocked in both directions between Northcote and Esmonde Rds. Queues of cars were gridlocked with motorists told to expect delays or consider an alternative route.
Dramatic footage shows the floodwater washing over motorway barriers into already flooded bus lanes and washing inside packed commuter buses.
Every fire truck in Auckland was responding to priority emergencies, with more than 400 calls to Fire and Emergency NZ for help, as rain drenches the city and many suburbs are hit by flooding.
The NZDF were also part of community rescue efforts in west Auckland with a fire truck, a Unimog truck and a four-wheel drive vehicle being used.
A witness near a flooded Camphora Rd in Ranui said the Defence Force had arrived to help with evacuations.
Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) urged people to only call 111 if life or safety is at risk. They said the volume of calls had caused delays.
“If water is entering property, people should do what they can to lift furniture and possessions, without putting themselves at risk,” FENZ said.
Slips trap motorists
This evening around 18 vehicles were trapped between two slips on SH1 about 3km north of the Puhoi Tunnel.
A stricken motorist pleaded for emergency services to rescue him.
”If anyone’s listening can you send some heavy machinery to give us a hand out of here please.”
He said the roadside bank collapsed, just missing a car, with “upwards of 50 people” trapped north of the Puhoi Tunnel.
One international flight into Auckland Aiport has been cancelled, with others diverted or rescheduled.
Huge crowds of people are gathered at Auckland Airport waiting for more information on flights.
Earlier this evening Auckland Airport said it had reduced runway operations after an arriving aircraft damaged runway lighting.
“This is largely impacting international arrivals and departures and larger aircraft travelling domestically.
“Our operational teams have cleared the debris and are now assessing the damage.”
Passengers on a 5.45pm flight from Christchurch to Auckland were told a plane has struck a landing light and all flights arriving into Auckland were cancelled.
Severe thunderstorms rolling in
MetService has also issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Auckland and parts of Northland after a “line of severe storms” was detected.
“These thunderstorms are expected to be accompanied by very heavy rain,” MetService said.
“An Auckland Council weather station just registered 60mm (!!) of rain in an hour,” it said.
“This will cause surface flooding. Take care on the roads and minimise travel where possible.”
Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) said its crews are responding to more than 400 emergency calls in Auckland due to the weather.
“Calls, where people are in danger, are being given priority,” FENZ said.
“People are urged to only call 111 if life or safety is at risk because the volume of calls has been causing delays in answering them. Every fire truck in Auckland is responding to the priority calls.”
FENZ said if water is entering property, people should do what they can to lift furniture and possessions, without putting themselves at risk.
“Please do not ring 111 for calls about flooded property if there is no threat to life or safety. People are also advised to stay off the roads except for essential travel.”
Police advised the public to not travel to West Coast beaches due to the sea conditions.
Earlier a car was left trapped in flooding on Auckland’s Northern Motorway as rising water brought traffic going in both directions to a standstill.
People are attempting to extract the car near the Northcote on-ramp on Auckland’s North Shore.
A witness told NZME that an ambulance travelled the wrong way down the motorway to get through.
A new heavy rain warning has been issued for Auckland, with warnings of up to 80mm of rain in addition to 120mm which has already fallen.
MetService made the new warning at 3.33pm, saying downpours of up to 55mm an hour are possible until 10pm tonight.
Waka Kotahi NZTA tweeted that State Highway 1 between SH12 and Waipu is now due to slips.
Niwa tweeted that the Auckland area has been hit with “a summer’s worth of rain” already according to their records.
“Auckland has *already* received a summer’s worth of rain (recording 237 mm), with over a month left to go,” Niwa said in its Twitter post.
Rain, potential thunderstorms and strong winds are playing havoc with the droves of long weekend holidaymakers expected to leave Auckland today for the region’s anniversary holiday.
Shoppers at Westfield Mall Albany were left waiting in “one of the worst rain storms” after being evacuated this afternoon.
”Pouring rain, sprinklers going off in Farmers and fire alarm in mall resulted in families trying to find shelter,” shopper Dave Mason told the Herald.
Photographs show people huddled under verandas with few dressed for the wet weather.
MetService has placed heavy rain warnings across Northland, Auckland, the Coromandel, parts of the Bay of Plenty and Mt Taranaki, which are due to stretch through most of Friday.
A severe thunderstorm watch is also in place in Northland and Auckland until 7pm tonight.
“Bands of heavy rain and embedded thunderstorms are expected to move across Northland and Auckland today,” MetService said.
Downpours are already drenching the region.
Kaikohe, in the Far North, recorded 32mm in half an hour between 7.30-8am today.
Castlerock in the Coromandel Ranges has had 151mm of rain in the past 24 hours, making it the wettest spot across the country, MetService said.
A strong wind warning is also in place for Auckland.
Two popular Auckland events have been cancelled as wild weather wreaks havoc on the city.
”Due to the current weather conditions in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Auckland Council and NZ Opera have made the joint decision to postpone this weekend’s Opera in the Park. The concert has been rescheduled and will now take place on Saturday, March 4, from 6pm-8pm at Glover Park, St Heliers,” the council said in a statement.
“While this is a huge disappointment to all involved, the decision has been made due to health and safety concerns for our audience, our crew, artists and also to the park itself. Movies in the Parks Manurewa has also cancelled its event planned for tonight.”
A decision on whether Movies in the Park Pukekohe and Movies in the Park Onehunga is yet to be made.
Wet weather traffic chaos
Police are urging motorists to be careful and drive to conditions as wild weather continues to pummel Auckland.
“This means being patient, delaying non-essential travel, increasing following distance and being aware of fellow drivers,” police said in a statement.
“The north, and north west, areas of Auckland have been particularly hit by the weather. There are slips on both Dome Valley Road and Kaipara Flats Road, forcing road closures and traffic diversions in those areas. Significant flooding is impacting several area across Tāmaki Makaurau, including parts of Taupaki, Albany, New Lynn, Henderson, and Kumeū, and drivers are asked to take care when travelling through water-logged roads.”
SH1 at Dome Valley is now open to all vehicles but is operating at just one lane.
Police advised the public to not travel to West Coast beaches due to the sea conditions.
“Those travelling out of Auckland for the long weekend may experience long traffic delays and potential diversions due to road closures. Keep level-headed, allow for extra time, and most of all, stay safe. Police thank motorists for their patience.”
Police also said due to hazardous conditions, diversions have been put in place on State Highway 1, Brynderwyn.
“At this stage heavy vehicles heading south can travel over the Brynderwyns. Other vehicles travelling south are being diverted at the intersection of State Highway 1 and The Braigh, Waipu.”
Heavy vehicles and vehicles travelling north are being diverted to State Highway 12.
These diversions may change, police said.
Police also asked all motorists to take extra care on the roads and avoid travel where possible as heavy rain and strong winds continue to batter the region.
A truck earlier broke down on the Southern Motorway, blocking southbound lanes just after the Great South Rd off-ramp.
Waka Kotahi NZ also said State Highway 25A from Kopu-Hikuai is closed until further notice due to instability caused by heavy rain, adding a caution to commuters planning a journey to the Coromandel this weekend.
The Tapu-Coroglen and 309 roads are also closed.
A detour route is in place - State Highway 25 around the edge of the peninsula and State Highway 2 via the Karangahake Gorge.
“Motorists should expect longer travel times using the detour route,” Waka Kotahi said.
The agency said it will keep a watch on the Auckland Harbour Bridge where motorists can expect to potentially face reduced speeds and lane closures.
The agency said it will close the bridge if winds hit 110km/h.
Two crashes on motorways across the city this afternoon have blocked lanes and caused headaches for motorists.
A section of Great North Rd in Mt Albert is closed after a crash on the eastbound-offramp on the Northwestern Motorway State Highway 16.
A second crash on the Southwestern Motorway State Highway 20 has blocked a southbound lane.
The transport agency said motorists should expect delays and follow emergency services’ directions at both crashes.
Earlier, it advised morning commuters to be alert to two crashes on Auckland’s motorways that have been cleared now but may still be causing built-up delays.
One crash earlier blocked the right, southbound lane traffic on Auckland’s SH20 Southwestern Motorway after the Hillsborough Rd on-ramp.
“Pass with care and expect some delays until cleared,” Waka Kotahi tweeted.
The other crash had earlier part-blocked the left northbound after the Te Atatu Rd on-ramp, delays are to be expected, it tweeted.
Several lanes are blocked on State Highway 1 after a slip near the intersection with SH12 south of the Brynderwyn Hills in Northland.
Waka Kotahi said motorists should take care and expect delays.
Elton John’s singing in the rain
Despite the miserable weather, the show must go on for Elton John.
John’s concert promoter said, “he plays rain or shine unless it becomes unsafe for the crew or fans.”
Some ferry services have also been cancelled today, while tens of thousands of Elton John fans will need to get their ponchos and gumboots out for tonight’s and tomorrow’s concerts at Mt Smart Stadium.
Adding to fans’ woes, trains won’t be running and buses to the concert area are expected to be running at capacity.
Power cuts in Auckland with heavy rain warnings for Coromandel, Northland, Bay of Plenty
Homes in the far east and south of Auckland appear to be suffering power cuts, including in parts of Papakura, Clevedon and towns surrounding the Hunua Ranges, according to electricity provider Vector’s map.
A sweep of homes in the Te Arai area, along the regional border between Auckland and Northland, also experienced power outages earlier on Friday morning but appear to have been reconnected.
An outage at Waiomu, north of Thames, had knocked out power to about 347 homes about 9am today, with supplier PowerCo expecting to restore electricity by 1pm.
Lines company Vector said its crews have been busy fixing power outages and are ready to respond to any more that arise.
“Now is the time to make sure your devices and power banks are fully charged. If you use medical equipment that relies on electricity, you should let your power company know, and ensure you’re prepared for any power disruption. If there is an immediate health threat, please contact your health provider or emergency services.
“Stormy weather brings a risk of trees falling on power lines. Please stay well away from downed lines, treat them as live at all times, and call 111 if you see any.Visit vector.co.nz/outages for the most up-to-date information about power outages in your area. Take care out there, everyone.”
The front moved into Northland on Thursday and is now sweeping into Auckland.
It is expected to hang around for the weekend, with the Coromandel’s heavy rain warning lasting into Saturday.
MetService meteorologist Jessie Owen said it is going to be a “very wet start” to Auckland Anniversary weekend and urged motorists to take care.
MetService says 70-100mm of rainfall near the Coromandel Coast, with more falling in the mountains.
In the Bay of Plenty west of Whakatāne, MetService expects between 130 and 180mm to fall, while Mt Taranaki on the west of the North Island will have falls up to 230mm.
Heavy rain watches are also in place for the Wairarapa, Tongariro National Park and Bay of Plenty from Whakatāne, east towards Gisborne.
In Wellington, residents can expect rain developing in the late afternoon and a top of 23C before a cloudy Saturday with a high of 18C.
In the South Island, Christchurch can expect a fine morning and a scorching top of 30C before showers and possibly heavy rain arrives in the evening.
Residents can then expect a major change in temperature as Saturday’s high drops to 20C.
It is part of a cold front that will sweep up the east of the South Island on Friday and Saturday.