WELLINGTON: New Zealand stepped up recovery efforts on Thursday after Cyclone Gabrielle left at least five people dead and displaced 9,000 in the country's most damaging storm in decades.
Gabrielle, which hit New Zealand on Sunday before making its way down the east coast of the North Island, cut off entire towns, washed away farms, bridges and livestock, and inundated homes, stranding people on rooftops.
Meteorological service MetService said Cyclone Gabrielle is now east of the country and continuing to track away from the North Island. However, it said severe thunderstorms and hail will hit parts of the badly affected northeast on Thursday night.
Communication and access to a number of areas remains difficult and surveillance flights are being undertaken to survey the damage and identify those who may be isolated.
“It is a significant event, it is on a scale of what we've seen with the Christchurch earthquake,” New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told a news conference.
“It's going to take some time to work through it. We will absolutely see this process through.”
New Zealand has received multiple offers of help from other countries and 25 disaster specialists from Australia will arrive within the next two days, added Hipkins.
The New Zealand Police on Thursday said they were investigating the death of a person in Gisborne, who was believed to have been caught in flood waters.
Four other deaths have already been confirmed and police have grave concerns for several other missing people.
Hipkins said the inability for people to get in touch with family and friends was a real issue and the government was working on immediately increasing connectivity.
Roughly 102,000 people remain without power, down from a peak of 225,000.
Earlier Thursday, New Zealand Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a statement the country was financially able to meet the costs of a rebuild.
Parts of New Zealand's North Island, where about 75% of the country's 5 million residents live, are enduring their second major storm in as many weeks. Record rains last month triggered flash floods in Auckland and four people lost lives then.
Authorities estimate more than 9,000 people have been displaced so far, with around 3,000 housed in temporary shelters. Analysts and economist say it is too early to estimate the cost of the rebuild but it will likely be billions of dollars.
The northeast region was hardest hit during Cyclone Bola in 1988, which caused millions of dollars in damage and left seven people dead.