Three people have been killed and many others swam to safety as Cyclone Gabrielle battered New Zealand in what officials described as the nation?s most severe weather event in years.
The cyclone left many people remain displaced. Some swam to safety while others were rescued from rooftops of their homes as overflowing rivers submerged the island nation.
Military helicopters lifted stranded storm survivors to safety in New Zealand on Wednesday, Feb. 15, after Cyclone Gabrielle killed four people and displaced 10,500 more.
With the storm now fading into the South Pacific, rescue teams are finally reaching regions cut off by days of torrential rain and gale-force winds.
The New Zealand military deployed three NH90 helicopters on reconnaissance and rescue flights to the hard-hit Hawke’s Bay area, finding families, pets and workmates clustered on sodden zinc rooftops — surrounded by a sea of murky, debris-filled floodwater.
“In some cases, floodwaters were up to the second storey of homes where people were being rescued,” a military spokesperson said.
The disaster has severed roads, collapsed houses and cut power across a swathe of New Zealand’s North Island, home to more than three-quarters of the country’s five million residents.
The human toll continues to rise. Police said the body of a child was found in a town on the remote east coast, with the youngster “believed to have been caught in rising floodwater”.
Three other bodies have also been recovered, including a woman killed when her house was crushed by a landslide and a victim believed to be a volunteer firefighter trapped by a collapsing home.
“The devastation is widespread and has taken a toll beyond property and livelihoods to people,” New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.
“There have been four confirmed fatalities and the grief must be unimaginable.”
With the cellphone network disrupted, police have received over 1,400 reports of people who are still “uncontactable”.
“We expect the vast majority of these people will be accounted for,” Hipkins said, “but there are several people missing for whom police hold grave concerns.”