Cyclone Gabrielle worst storm to hit New Zealand this century, says PM (2024)

New Zealand is in a national state of emergency, as Cyclone Gabrielle batters the country, with floods trapping people on roofs, thousands displaced and landslides destroying homes in what officials have described as an “unprecedented” natural disaster.

“Cyclone Gabrielle is the most significant weather event New Zealand has seen in this century. The severity and the damage that we are seeing has not been experienced in a generation,” the prime minister, Chris Hipkins, said on Tuesday. “We are still building a picture of the effects of the cyclone as it continues to unfold. But what we do know is the impact is significant and it is widespread.”

About 2,500 people have been displaced so far, officials said on Tuesday afternoon – but that number may shift, as there are still large areas that are unreachable and cut off from telecommunications.

New Zealand minister decries climate crisis ‘lost decades’ in wake of Cyclone GabrielleRead more

The country announced a national state of emergency on Tuesday as the scale of damage inflicted by the storm emerged.

The emergency management minister, Kieran McAnulty, said Gabrielle was “an unprecedented weather event”.

It is only the third time in New Zealand’s history that a national state of emergency has been declared. The designation means the national government can send resources across the country to bolster civil defence efforts.

Cyclone Gabrielle worst storm to hit New Zealand this century, says PM (1)

Flood waters rose to envelop homes and buildings in some areas: in Hawke’s Bay, people sheltered on roofs, with military helicopters unable to reach them in the weather. Landslides around the North Island swept away homes and cut off state highways.

Adrianne Mason, of Esk Valley in Hawke’s Bay, said her 22-year-old daughter had to climb out of her bedroom window in the middle of the night and swim to safety as flood waters rose, and neighbours were trapped on their roof by rising water. They have escaped to safety at a home on higher ground, but still cannot be reached by rescuers because the river has washed out roads.

The flooding was “catastrophic”, Mason said. Their newly built home had been immersed and other properties surrounding the river “have lost their houses completely,” she said.

On the East Cape, a farmer in Tolaga Bay described enormous destruction as floods carried “300kg logs, huge logs, one after another, rolling off the forestry up above us”. The water came “pouring out over people’s homes and farms”, Bridget Parker told Radio New Zealand. “We prepared for the worst. Nothing prepares you for this carnage. Is anybody coming to help?”

With a number of regions completely cut off on Tuesday, assessing the extent of the damage was proving extremely difficult, and there were no formal numbers so far on people evacuated, injured, or homes destroyed.

“It will take us a while to get a handle on exactly what’s happened,” Hipkins said earlier on Tuesday. “A lot of families displaced, a lot of homes without power, extensive damage done across the country.”

He said recovery from the storm’s damage was likely to be lengthy. “This won’t be an overnight recovery. It’s going to take a while – some people will be displaced from their homes for an extended period of time,” Hipkins said.

Cyclone Gabrielle worst storm to hit New Zealand this century, says PM (2)

The cyclone comes on the heels of devastating flooding in Auckland and Northland, which caused extensive damage a fortnight earlier.

The climate change minister, James Shaw, said of the cyclone’s devastating effects: “This is climate change.”

In a furious speech to parliament, he decried “the lost decades that we spent bickering and arguing about whether climate change was real or not, whether it was caused by humans or not, whether it was bad or not, whether we should do something about it or not”.

He added: “We cannot put our heads in the sand when the beach is flooding. We must act now.”

The prime minister indicated the cyclone – and other extreme weather events – would have to change how and where New Zealand builds its communities.

“We need to look at the sustainability of some of the places where we have built previously,” he said. “We’ve got a long history of poor past decisions in New Zealand that we’re confronting right now.”


The worst-affected areas appeared to be around the east coast and far north of the North Island. Some communities, such as the coastal region of Gisborne/Tairāwhiti, parts of Hawke’s Bay and Northland have been cut off entirely, lacking power, mobile networks or road access. Fire and Emergency New Zealand said it had lost all communication with crews on the ground in the early hours of Tuesday morning, while civil defence workers were communicating by satellite phone.

Flood waters rose to envelop homes and buildings in some areas: in Hastings, some people sheltered on roofs. Landslides around Auckland’s west coast swept away homes and cut off roads.

McAnulty said that while “we are through the worst of the storm itself, we are all facing extensive flooding slips, damaged roads and infrastructure”.

Cyclone Gabrielle worst storm to hit New Zealand this century, says PM (3)

“Our message to everyone affected is safety first: look after each other, your family and your neighbours,” he said. If people were facing dangerous conditions, he urged them to proactively evacuate: “If you are worried about your safety, particularly because of the threat of flooding or slips, then don’t wait for emergency services to contact you: leave and seek safety.”

By Tuesday afternoon, power was cut off to 225,000 people across the North Island, the energy minister, Megan Woods, said. The national grid operator warned that power might not be restored to some for “for days to weeks, rather than hours”.

Tell us: have you been affected by Cyclone Gabrielle in New Zealand?Read more

The National Emergency Management Agency’s national manager of operations, Roger Ball, said: “The situation is really evolving minute by minute. We’ve got self-evacuations at the moment and formal evacuations under way.”

The conditions were making evacuations and rescues difficult. One firefighter was in a critical condition and another still missing after a landslide destroyed the house they were inspecting in Muriwai, west Auckland.

McAnulty said emergency workers were struggling with access in a number of regions across the North Island. “The unstable ground, the flood waters, closed roads [are] making their job incredibly difficult. The options that would be available to them normally, such as helicopters, may not be possible with the extent of the weather,” he said.

Cyclone Gabrielle worst storm to hit New Zealand this century, says PM (2024)


Cyclone Gabrielle worst storm to hit New Zealand this century, says PM? ›

“Cyclone Gabrielle is the most significant weather event New Zealand has seen in this century. The severity and the damage that we are seeing has not been experienced in a generation,” the prime minister, Chris Hipkins

Chris Hipkins
Fourth term (2017–2020)

It was later announced that he would serve as minister for education. As education minister, Hipkins has supported the abolition of National Standards and charter schools in New Zealand, which were supported by the previous National Government. › wiki › Chris_Hipkins
, said on Tuesday.

What was the worst cyclone in New Zealand history? ›

The worst storms to affect New Zealand in the last 50 years were Cyclone Bola in March 1988, causing more than 200 million dollars of damage, and the Wahine storm (Tropical Cyclone Gisele) in 1968 in which 51 people lost their lives.

How bad was the cyclone in New Zealand? ›

Cyclone Gabrielle caused a global record of about 850,000 landslides across the country, causing havoc to New Zealand's road network. In Auckland, a handful of roads remain closed and more than two dozen are only partially open due to twin disasters: the cyclone and severe flooding that hit two weeks earlier.

Where did Cyclone Gabrielle hit the worst? ›

Worst affected areas include Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Northland. Gabrielle struck just as the northern part of the North Island was recovering from an earlier cyclone which also caused widespread destruction. The storm couldn't come at a worse time for the wine industry.

How did Cyclone Gabrielle affect New Zealand? ›

Cyclone Gabrielle made history as the costliest tropical cyclone in the southern hemisphere, causing more than $8bn in damages. At least 11 people died when the cyclone swept across New Zealand in February 2023. Te Tairāwhiti (Gisborne) and Te Matau-a-Māui (Hawke's Bay) were “the epicentre of devastation”.

How many people died in the cyclone in New Zealand? ›

Cyclone Gabrielle has been described as the worst weather event of this century, claiming the lives of 11 people. The biggest known loss of life was in Hawke's Bay, where rivers burst their banks and sodden land gave way, sweeping young and old to their deaths.

How many people were killed in the cyclone in New Zealand? ›

A general view of a damaged bridge after a small creek bursts its bank causing houses to flood in Havelock North, New Zealand, Feb. 18, 2023.

Was Cyclone Bola worse than Gabrielle? ›

It was also the deadliest cyclone and weather event overall to hit New Zealand since Cyclone Giselle in 1968, surpassing Cyclone Bola in 1988.

Did Cyclone Gabrielle affect Auckland? ›

The then-Emergency Management Minister said it was estimated more than 2000 people - from Far North, Auckland, Hawke's Bay, Waikato and Bay of Plenty - were displaced by Gabrielle. But little was known about the situation in the east, with communications minimal and access hampered due to continued high winds and rain.

How devastating has Cyclone Gabrielle been on the North Island? ›

A violent tropical cyclone devastated the North Island of New Zealand on February 2023. Cyclone Gabrielle is the costliest tropical cyclone to ever hit the Southern Hemisphere, with total damages estimated to be over NZ$13.5 billion. We were there, ready at all times to do our part.

Does New Zealand get hurricanes? ›

Tropical cyclones are large revolving storms that develop in the tropics. They are also called hurricanes or typhoons. They have a wind-speed of more than 120kph. Tropical cyclones usually weaken when they meet the cooler sea temperatures around New Zealand, But sometimes they can cause major damage.

Does New Zealand get tornadoes? ›

Tornadoes are relatively rare events here. On average, there are around 7-10* moderate to strong tornado events reported in New Zealand each year. Fatalities associated with tornadoes are also rare here.

How long did Cyclone Gabrielle hit NZ? ›

Originating in the Coral Sea in early February, Cyclone Gabrielle tracked south and struck Aotearoa between February 12 and 16, 2023. The devastation caused, including the loss of life, homes, possessions, and livelihoods, has been heart breaking.

What was the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle? ›

The biggest issue remained transportation, Macdonald said. It would take many months to get State Highway 2 that goes to Wairoa operative while significant repairs were also needed on SH5, the Napier to Taupō highway. As many as 100 bridges have been damaged, including some that had been destroyed.

Has Cyclone Gabrielle left NZ? ›

After heavy rain dumped on Wellington on Thursday morning, MetService meteorologist Jessie Owen at midday said the worst was over for the capital with just some showers coming through the day. The system – associated with Gabrielle – was moving north and away from the country on Thursday night and Friday morning.

What was the strongest cyclone ever? ›

Typhoon Haiyan was the most powerful tropical cyclone ever to hit land and perhaps the most powerful in recorded history. But what lessons can scientists draw from an awesome storm with winds of just over 300 kilometers an hour? Not as much as they might wish. Why was Typhoon Haiyan so strong?

How often do cyclones hit New Zealand? ›

Important Facts about Tropical Cyclones and New Zealand

On average, about 10 tropical cyclones form in the South Pacific tropics between November and April each year, and about one of those will affect New Zealand as an ex-tropical cyclone (most commonly in February or March).

What was the worst cyclones? ›

The deadliest tropical cyclone in world history is the Great Bhola Cyclone, which struck Bangladesh in 1970 and caused approximately 500,000 fatalities. More recently, Cyclone Nargis, which made landfall in Myanmar in 2008, caused catastrophic destruction and at least 138,000 fatalities.

Has New Zealand ever had a hurricane? ›

Cyclone Bola dumped over 900 mm of rain and produced hurricane-force winds in regions of northern New Zealand in March 1988.

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