New Zealand’s largest city declared a state of emergency after heavy rains flooded large areas and forced the closure of Auckland International Airport, where a plane struck and damaged runway lights on landing.
More than 2,000 people stayed in Auckland Airport’s terminal buildings after dozens of flights were diverted or canceled. The rain triggered landslides, including in at least one residential area, and stranded motorists on a flooded highway near the city. New Zealand’s national weather service said a record 9.8 inches of rain fell on the airport in 24 hours and forecast further consequences.
New Zealand Police said they were responding to calls from flooded areas where two men were found dead. A search and rescue team searched separately for a man who was reportedly swept away by flood waters in the village of Onewhero.
Auckland Airport, the landing point for millions of visitors to the country each year and a key transit route to the United States, was closed to all international and domestic flights for more than 12 hours from Friday evening. Airport operations have already been suspended after an Air New Zealand flight out of Melbourne, Australia, turned off runway lights on Friday. No one was injured and the country’s aviation security authority, Air New Zealand, was alerted GmbH.
“Thousands of emergency workers are putting themselves at risk across the region,” said Wayne Brown, Mayor of Auckland, who declared a state of emergency on Friday night. “It’s a much more widespread event than in the past.”
The state of emergency declaration for Auckland, a city of around 1.5 million people, gives first responders powers, including the power to evacuate residents from their homes. Centers have opened across the city to accommodate displaced residents. The New Zealand armed forces are in the city to support emergency services, the federal government said.
The deluge led to the cancellation of Elton John’s concert in the city on Friday, just before the artist was due to take the stage.
Air New Zealand, the national carrier, said it will take several days for flight schedules to return to normal. The airline has diverted 12 international flights because of the flooding, including a direct flight from New York to Auckland that departed Thursday and landed in Hawaii.
Other airlines were affected. Arrivals boards at Sydney Airport displayed several Qantas Airways GmbH.
Flights from Auckland had been cancelled. Fiji Airways canceled five flights, the airline said. American Airlines Group inc
said it canceled Thursday and Friday daily service from Dallas. United Airlines Holdings inc
said it canceled service from San Francisco on Thursday, as well as the return flight on Saturday.
Listed on the country’s main stock exchange, Auckland International Airport is the most common landing point for visitors to New Zealand. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 20 million passengers were handled annually.
Domestic flights resumed around Saturday noon local time. The international terminal should reopen for outbound flights at least five hours later, the airport said. There will be no inbound international flights until Sunday morning, he added.
Airport employees investigated and repaired damage in the terminals and made sure that the systems are secure. Videos posted by travelers on social media showed water in the airport buildings.
“Our teams and those of our airport partners continue to work around the clock to ensure we can safely open our domestic and international terminal operations as soon as possible,” said Carrie Hurihanganui, Managing Director of Auckland Airport.
Write to Stuart Condie at [email protected]
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