Auckland declared a local state of emergency as a devastating deluge prompted chaotic scenes, evacuations and power outages. “Steep roads just became rivers of water,” one resident said.
A state of emergency was declared in Auckland, New Zealand, on Friday night, and residents in the worst-affected areas were ordered to evacuate their homes as rain and severe flooding battered the country’s largest city.
Heavy rain ahead of a three-day weekend on Friday afternoon had initially led to traffic snarls, the sudden cancellation of an Elton John concert and sodden highways. But within a few hours, mere inconvenience gave way to frantic and chaotic scenes across the city.
The torrent submerged parks and backyards, caused waterlogged cars to be abandoned by the side of the road and led to at least one bridge being washed away. The authorities said a body had been found in the floodwaters, but the cause of death was not immediately clear. Residents across Auckland, a city of 1.7 million, faced power outages, landslides and displacement from damaged and inundated homes.
Almost 240 millimeters of rain — about 10 inches — had fallen by 9:30 p.m. local time, according to the MetService, the country’s national weather service, with more rain expected in the coming hours.
It was not until nearly 10 p.m. — by which point emergency services said they had received more than 1,000 calls for assistance — that the city’s mayor, Wayne Brown, announced a local state of emergency, after the urging of other officials. The declaration, which lasts seven days, allows local emergency services to gain access to additional resources to help cope with the situation.
“This is going to be a horrible night for thousands of Aucklanders and their families,” Mr. Brown said at a news conference. “My thoughts are with those Aucklanders affected, including many of those who have been evacuated from their homes and have a hard night ahead.”
He dismissed criticism that he had declared the state of emergency too late, saying that his role was not “to rush out with buckets.”
A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for parts of the upper North Island, including on the Coromandel Peninsula and in the Waikato region.
“We had a whole summer’s worth of rain in about four or five hours,” said Richard Hills, a local councilor.
“There’s significant flooding, and it’s everywhere. I’ve never seen the motorways close,” he added. “The Northern Busway was like a river with rapids, and, unfortunately, out northwest you’ve got significant homes inundated and cars floating. It’s pretty horrendous.”
Many of the places where officials had intended to send people for shelter became flooded, he added. “So we’ve just been recommending everyone go to family if they can.”
Emma Kaniuk, a graphic designer in Auckland, was among those caught up in the deluge. Trying to get home from work, she and others on her bus were forced to get off and wade through the suburb of Grey Lynn, after the bus was no longer able to drive through the flooded streets.
“At first, it seemed to me like a normal rainy day. We were all laughing about it at 6 p.m.,” Ms. Kaniuk, 38, said. “Then by 9 p.m., it got scary.”
On Karangahape Road, a main thoroughfare, water gushed down the road and along the bicycle path, she said, making its way into bars and restaurants through windows and under doorways, as workers tried to flush it out with squeegees and mops. “A lot of cascading water down hills, sides of parks and roads. Steep roads just became rivers of water,” she said. “It happened really fast.”
Auckland Airport, the country’s largest, closed amid flooding. Images shared on social media showed travelers trying to push suitcases and baggage trolleys through inches of water. Flights would not be arriving or departing before noon on Saturday, according to the airport’s website, and MetService said the rain levels there had broken multiple records.
In a statement, the police in Auckland said they were “overwhelmed” with calls and urged people to call for help only if they were in “a life-threatening emergency.”
“I’m pleased an emergency declaration has been made due to flooding in Auckland tonight,” the country’s new prime minister, Chris Hipkins, said in a statement on Friday night. “All relevant government agencies are working flat-out to help in an extraordinary set of circumstances.”
In an early-morning news conference, Mr. Hipkins said that it was still difficult to gauge the extent of the flooding, evacuations and injuries but that multiple evacuation centers were supporting residents and that there were “up to, if not more than, 1,000 people still stranded at the airport.” He said he planned to travel to Auckland to assess the situation and would be prepared to offer additional support. In the meantime, he urged residents to look out for one another and to try to minimize movement when possible.
“Clearly this is quite unprecedented.”