New Zealanders evacuated from parts of coast as storm hits

New Zealanders evacuated from parts of coast as storm hits

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Hundreds of people in New Zealand were evacuated from some coastal areas on Thursday as the second major storm in just over a week made landfall near the North Island town of Whakatane.

But residents of the nation’s largest city, Auckland, breathed a sigh of relief as the remnants of Cyclone Cook moved past them to the east. Authorities had earlier worried the storm could hit the city and cause major problems.

“It seems Auckland has largely survived … unscathed,” tweeted Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.

Civil defence authorities said people from about 250 homes in the beach town of Ohope were told they had to evacuate, while other households chose to leave. Authorities had earlier advised people in low elevations on the Coromandel Peninsula to evacuate to higher ground, as large waves were expected to batter the coast.

Air New Zealand suspended flights from Tauranga Airport and other flights around the country were also delayed or cancelled. The military said it had placed 500 troops on standby. The storm also caused power disruptions to hundreds of homes in Whakatane and Tauranga.

Sarah Stuart-Black, director of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, said the storm was “extremely serious” and severe weather warnings were in place for much of the country.

“We are watching very carefully, we’re not through this yet,” she said on Thursday evening.

The storm was expected to move south overnight Thursday and reach the capital, Wellington, early Friday, causing more problems along the way but also losing some of its punch.

The MetService weather agency predicted rainfall could exceed 100 millimeters (4 inches) in some places and cause more flooding in areas still recovering from heavy rainfall last week.

Last Thursday the town of Edgecumbe was flooded when a river burst through a concrete levee on the Rangitaiki River as the remnants of Cyclone Debbie hit. The water forced 2,000 people to evacuate and flooded hundreds of homes.

Many people have been unable to return to their homes since then and authorities have been scrambling to shore up the breached levee. That system and others will be tested again by rainfall from the latest storm.

MetService predicted winds from the storm could gust to 150 kilometres (93 miles) per hour and that waves could rise to over 5 metres (16 feet).

Nick Perry, The Associated Press

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