2 dead, 2 missing as rain ravages New Zealand’s largest city

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Police on Saturday said two people had died and two more were missing as torrential rain and flooding continued to cause widespread disruption to New Zealand’s largest city.

Authorities declared a state of emergency for the Auckland region and the country’s new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins flew to the city in a military plane to assess the damage. Hipkins was sworn in to the top job on Wednesday after Jacinda Ardern stepped down.

Hipkins said the rain hit the town quickly. “Aucklanders need to brace themselves for more rain to fall,” he said.

Earlier, hundreds of people were stranded overnight at Auckland Airport after the airport stopped all flights and parts of the terminal were flooded.

Police said they found one man’s body in a flooded sewer on Friday night and another man’s body in a flooded parking lot Saturday night, and they are continuing to investigate both deaths.

Police said a third man was reported missing after being swept away by flooding, while a fourth person remained missing after a landslide knocked down a house in the suburb of Remuera.

A video posted online showed deep water in some places.

Lawmaker Ricardo Menéndez posted a video of water pouring into homes. “We just had to evacuate our house because the water was quickly rising and pouring in aggressively,” he tweeted.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand said crews had responded to more than 700 incidents in the region and staff had answered more than 2,000 emergency calls.

“We had all available career and volunteer crews on the road to respond to the most dire events,” said district manager Brad Mosby.

Mosby said crews rescued 126 people trapped in homes or cars, or involved in car accidents.

Air New Zealand said it would resume domestic flights to and from Auckland on Saturday afternoon, but was not yet sure when international flights would resume.

“The flood has had a huge impact on our operations in Auckland,” said David Morgan, the airline’s Chief Operational Integrity and Safety Officer. “We are working to get customers to their final destination and get our crew and aircraft back to where they need to be. It may take a few days for everything to be back on track.”

In a series of updates on Twitter, Auckland Airport said people were able to leave the airport early Saturday to go home or accommodation after hundreds spent the night in the terminal.

“It has been a long and challenging night at Auckland Airport, we thank everyone for their continued patience,” the airport wrote.

“Unfortunately, due to previous flooding in the baggage hall, we are currently unable to return checked baggage to you,” the airport writes. “Your airline will make arrangements for the return at a later date.”

The airport said Friday it was reducing runway operations after an arriving aircraft damaged runway lighting.

The storm also caused an Elton John concert to be canceled just before it was due to start Friday night. A second concert by John that was scheduled for Saturday night in the stadium was also cancelled.

About 40,000 people were expected to attend each concert at Mt Smart Stadium. Thousands were already at the venue on Friday night when organizers decided to cancel not long before John was due to take the stage at 7:30pm

The concert was billed as a final farewell tour for John. Frontier Touring, one of the concert promoters, tweeted that the concert had been canceled due to unsafe weather conditions.

Many concertgoers who had braved the circumstances were frustrated that the decision had only been made hours earlier.

The weather agency MetService warned of flash floods and dangerous driving conditions. On Friday evening, transport authorities closed parts of State Highway 1, the main road that bisects Auckland.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown told Radio New Zealand: “We need the rain to stop. That’s the main problem.”

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