Thousands Evacuated As Cyclone Debbie Batters New Zealand's North Island

More than a week after slamming Australia's Queensland, Category 4 Debbie brings heavy rain, major flooding

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, April 6, 2017) – Thousands of people at the top of New Zealand's North Island have been told to evacuate as the tail end of Cyclone Debbie continues to batter the country, bringing heavy rainfall and major flooding.

The effects of the Category 4 storm were still being felt in both New Zealand and Australia on Thursday, more than a week after it made landfall in Queensland.

The storm system killed six people in Australia, smashing tourist resorts, bringing down power lines, and shutting down coal mines.

Scores of roads were closed or blocked by landslides across New Zealand's North Island following two days of heavy rainfall, although some areas had been given a reprieve from expected flash flooding.

The international airport in the capital of Wellington was reopened on Thursday morning after the severe weather brought down air traffic systems late on Wednesday, but delays are expected as dozens of travellers were left waiting overnight.

No deaths have been reported, but authorities continued to search for a man reported missing in a swollen river.

Local media reported that evacuation centres had been set up to take in the thousands of residents racing the storm, while emergency services were using boats to evacuate residents in some of the hardest hit areas.

Levee fails in Edgecumbe

People used jet boats and tractors to help rescue about 2,000 residents of a New Zealand town after a river burst through a concrete levee, flooding hundreds of homes and businesses.

Local authorities declared a state of emergency after the levee failed in the town of Edgecumbe on the North Island.

Tony Bonne, the Mayor of the Whakatane District Council, said the water was more than 1 metre deep in some homes and that one nearby river had reached an all-time record height.

He said some leaking had occurred around the concrete levee on the Rangitaiki River before it failed.

Cr Bonne said crews had worked to reinforce the structure and thought they had it secured when "she just let go".

"Some people are in shock, of course, but many are accepting that this is something that's a part of nature which they have no control over," Cr Bonne said.

Andy Best, a meteorologist with MetService, said a nearby weather monitoring station had recorded 191 millimetres of rain over the last couple of days, an amount that would typically fall over two months.

He said the worst of the weather system had passed and the forecast was for improved weather in the coming days.

New Zealand's mountainous terrain makes its roads susceptible to landslides and many regions are still recovering from November's magnitude-7.8 earthquake.

Kaikoura, the coastal holiday town at the epicentre of that quake, was shut off from the rest of the country for the second time in six months as connecting roads were again hit by landslips.

About 10,000 homes were left without power in the area's biggest city, Auckland, on Wednesday.

In Australia, major flooding is forecast to hit the Queensland city of Rockhampton at lunchtime on Thursday and put the town underwater for two days.

Radio Australia
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