Tropical Cyclone Gita, which recently devastated Tonga, has tracked south and brought damaging winds and torrential rain to New Zealand. A record hot summer has warmed ocean surfaces.
Cyclone Gita hit central New Zealand on Tuesday night with torrential rain and win gusts of 130 kph (80 mph) taking down trees and tearing off roofs. Power to tens of thousands of people was cut as several areas declared a state of emergency and closed roads because of land slips, flooding and fallen trees.
Air New Zealand cancelled all flights into Wellington and four other airports through to midnight on Tuesday as roads were closed around the coastal town of Kaikoura and schools in the upper half of the South Island closed ahead of the storm's arrival.
The southern city of Christchurch had declared a state of emergency as heavy rains ahead of the full force of the storm brought flooding on Tuesday. The full force of Cyclone Gita hit Tonga with 275 kph winds last week causing extensive damage. The cyclone also hit Fiji, Samoa and American Samoa.
"The full impact of the storm will be felt overnight and tomorrow morning," Lianne Dalziel, Christchurch Mayor said on Tuesday. "We are expecting homes to be flooded."
Residents in low-lying areas had been urged to evacuate as security forces were deployed to areas most vulnerable to the expected 150 kph winds and torrential rains where trees, power lines and buildings could be damaged. Widespread flooding and power outages were expected.
"My message still to people is please look out for your local warnings and expect disruption to travel and please just be careful," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters in parliament.
The TranzAlpine tourist train service was cancelled on Tuesday and for Wednesday as visitors were encouraged to leave low-lying areas.
Record summer, warm seas
Cyclone Gita's progress across the sea has been affected by record air temperatures and warmed ocean surfaces.
Climate experts are predicting New Zealand will mark one of its hottest summers since records were first kept in the 1860s. Average temperatures for the summer have already been recorded at 2.4 degrees Celsius above the norm. Compared with 2017, wine grapes in the vineyards are three weeks ahead in their development.
New Zealand, which lies in the South Pacific Ocean to the southeast of Australia, has also seen a marine heatwave since October which has added strength to the force of the cyclone.
jm/rc (Reuters, dpa)