Storm lashes New Zealand, killing three and halting flights

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Auckland has been left reeling after an intense summer storm battered New Zealand’s largest city, killing three people and prompting the international airport to halt flights.

A state of emergency is in place in the South Pacific city of about 1.6 million people after as much as 153 mm (6 inches) of rain fell in just three hours on Friday evening.

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That’s almost triple the amount that would normally occur in the whole of January, research institute NIWA said in a post on Twitter. It was also Auckland’s wettest day on record, the MetService said.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed three people died in the flooding, and at least one other person is missing.

“Having just surveyed some of the extensive damage both on the ground and in the air, it’s clear that it’s going to be a big cleanup job,” Hipkins said at a press conference in Auckland after flying from Wellington on a Defense Force aircraft. “The loss of life underscores just the sheer scale of this weather event and how quickly it turned tragic.”

Hipkins also warned Aucklanders that more bad weather was forecast.

Auckland Airport reported a record 249 mm of rain in 24 hours. International and domestic terminals were closed and at least 2,000 travelers were left stranded in the flooded buildings until the early hours of Saturday morning.

While domestic flights resumed Saturday afternoon, the international terminal remains closed, with no departures likely to take place before 5 a.m. local time Sunday and no arrivals until 7 a.m.

“What we’ve discovered is the flooding overnight has significantly impacted a number of critical components of our airport terminal infrastructure, said Carrie Hurihanganui, chief executive officer at Auckland Airport. “We have been working with urgency today to try and get everything dry, tested and working again, but our assessment is we need more time to make sure it is all working well and more importantly, safely, before we resume international operations.

The storm is the latest example of extreme weather events that have become increasingly common globally because of climate change and the third straight year of La Nina — something that’s only happened twice since 1950.

The Auckland flooding impacted the electricity network and caused widespread outages, particularly in west Auckland, power company Vector said Saturday. By late morning, nearly 23,000 homes and businesses had their power restored with around 3,500 still without electricity.

New Zealand’s MetService said the storm was caused by warm air descending from the tropics, bringing the “heavy rain feature with embedded thunderstorms. More rain is forecast to fall on Saturday.

The event inundated homes around Auckland and left cars floating down roads, while emergency services went door-to-door on kayaks in rescue efforts. Elton John’s concert at Mt Smart stadium was scrapped just a few minutes before the singer was expected on stage, and his second Auckland show was canceled Saturday.

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