New Zealand’s cyclone death toll at 11, thousands still missing



The death toll from Cyclone Gabrielle in New Zea-land climbed to 11 on Sunday as thousands of people remained missing a week after the storm struck the country’s North Island.

The cyclone hit the island’s northernmost region on Feb 12 and tracked down the east coast, inflicting widespread devastation. Prime Minister Chris Hip-kins has called Gabrielle New Zealand’s biggest natural disaster this century. On Sunday, police said two more people had died in hard-hit Hawke’s Bay in circumstances re-lated to the cyclone.

More fatalities are possible, Hipkins told report-ers in the capital Wellington, as 6,431 people re-mained missing, while 3,216 had been reported safe.

Lives had been “turned upside down” by the disaster and recovery was a “steep mountain ahead”, he said, pointing to disrupted telecommunications, shortages of fresh water and damaged roads still restricting access to some areas.

Supply chains were disrupted causing problems moving goods, many crops had been destroyed, and 28,000 homes were still without power, he said.

“The true extent of the devastation and loss be-comes clearer with every passing day,” the prime minister said.

A team from Fiji would leave for New Zealand in the coming days to assist with recovery, one of 12 offers of international aid received so far, Hipkins said. Twenty-seven emergency workers from Aus-tralia are assisting with the relief effort. Recovery efforts continued on Sunday, with teams from Auckland Council carrying out rapid building assessments on damaged homes in the coastal areas of Muriwai and Piha, about 60 km (40 miles) west of the nation’s largest city, Auckland.

Emergency authorities and the military have been dropping critical supplies via helicopter to commu-nities stranded since the cyclone, which washed away farms, bridges and livestock and inundated homes. Police have sent an extra 100 officers to Hawke’s Bay and nearby Tairawhiti, including to isolated areas, amid reports of looting.

The police are working to maintain law and or-der,“ Hipkins said.—AFP