WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Police said Saturday two people died and two others were missing as torrential rains and flooding continued to cause widespread disruption in New Zealand’s largest city.
Authorities declared a state of emergency for the Auckland region and the country’s new prime minister, Chris Hipkins, flew to the city in a military plane to assess the damage. Hipkins sworn in to top job Wednesday after Jacinda Ardern resigns.
Hipkins said the rain hit the town quickly. “Aucklanders need to be prepared for the fact that there could be more rain,” he said.
Earlier, hundreds of people were stranded at Auckland Airport overnight after the airport halted all flights and parts of the terminal were flooded.
Police said they found a man’s body Friday night in a flooded culvert and another man’s body early Saturday in a flooded parking lot, and they are continuing to investigate both deaths.
Police said a third man was missing after being swept away by floodwaters while a fourth person was missing after a landslide destroyed a house in the suburb of Remuera.
Video posted online showed chest-deep water in some places.
Lawmaker Ricardo Menéndez released a video showing water invading homes. «We just had to evacuate our house as the water was already rising fast and coming in aggressively,» he tweeted.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand said crews responded to more than 700 incidents in the area and staff took more than 2,000 emergency calls.
“We had every career and volunteer crew available on the road to respond to the most serious events,” District Manager Brad Mosby said.
Mosby said crews rescued 126 people who were trapped in homes or cars, or were involved in vehicle crashes.
Air New Zealand said it resumed domestic flights to and from Auckland on Saturday afternoon, but was not yet sure when international flights would resume.
«The floods had a huge impact on our operations in Auckland,» said David Morgan, the airline’s operational integrity and safety manager. “We are working to get customers to their final destinations and to get our crew and planes back to the right place. It might take a few days to get everything back on track.
In a series of Twitter updates, Auckland Airport said people could leave the airport early on Saturday to fly home or stay after hundreds had spent the night in the terminal.
“It has been a long and difficult night at Auckland Airport, we thank everyone for the continued patience,” the airport wrote.
«Unfortunately, due to previous flooding in the baggage hall, we are currently unable to return checked baggage to you,» the airport wrote. «Your airline will make arrangements for his return later.»
The airport said on Friday it was reducing its runway operations after an arriving plane damaged runway lighting.
The storm also caused the cancellation of an Elton John concert just before it was due to start on Friday night. A second concert by John which was scheduled at the stadium on Saturday evening has also been cancelled.
About 40,000 people were expected to attend each concert at Mt Smart Stadium. Thousands of people were already there on Friday night when organizers decided to cancel shortly before John took the stage at 7.30pm.
The concert was billed as a final farewell tour for John. Frontier Touring, one of the concert organizers, tweeted that the concert was canceled due to dangerous weather conditions.
Many spectators who had braved the conditions were frustrated that the decision had not been made hours earlier.
Weather agency MetService warned of flash flooding and dangerous driving conditions. On Friday evening, transport authorities closed parts of State Highway 1, the main highway that runs through Auckland.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown told Radio New Zealand: “We need the rain to stop. This is the main problem.