The New Zealand government declared a state of emergency on Tuesday (February 14) across the archipelago hit by a violent storm which deprived tens of thousands of homes of electricity and caused floods and landslides.
This "unprecedented weather event", according to the authorities, resulted in the night from Monday to Tuesday by strong winds and heavy rainfall on the North Island.
"The damage is extensive across the country," Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said at a press conference in Auckland.
"A lot of families have been displaced, a lot of homes are without electricity," he added.
Houses were damaged by falling trees or invaded by mud and rubbish. Some residents have thus found themselves totally isolated, the roads being cut off following landslides or floods.
According to local media, people were forced to swim from their homes in order to find safety.
Cyclone Gabrielle which crossed the South Pacific was downgraded to storm status as it approached New Zealand on Sunday. This storm brought wind gusts of up to 140 km / h, a cumulative rainfall of up to 20 cm in twenty-four hours and waves of eleven meters.
Mr Hipkins said it is still "too early to tell" how many people have been evacuated from their homes and are without power or phone coverage.
'Unprecedented bad weather'
"This is unprecedented severe weather that is having a huge impact" in the north of the country, Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty said, with "large-scale flooding, landslides, roads and other infrastructure damaged".
"This is a major disaster [which poses] a real threat to the lives of New Zealanders," McAnulty warned, adding that a national state of emergency was declared for seven days. He said further rains and strong winds are expected on Tuesday, complicating relief operations.
"The [information] that reached us overnight is very concerning," McAnulty told reporters. "Emergency services are working day and night, but unstable soils, flood waters and closed roads complicate matters."
New Zealand Fire and Rescue Services said one firefighter is missing and another is in critical condition after a house collapsed in West Auckland.
The storm grounded planes on Monday and Air New Zealand said travel for some 10,000 international customers was disrupted. The airline announced the resumption of some flights on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr Hipkins pledged NZ$11.5 million (€6.8 million) in aid to help with repairs.
Auckland, the country's largest city with 1.6 million people, is barely recovering from flash floods that killed four people in late January and forced thousands from their homes.