Cyclone-hit New Zealand extends state of emergency, pledges aid

New Zealand announces relief package worth $186m, says cost of storm could rise above $8bn.

New Zealand’s government has extended the state of emergency it declared over Cyclone Gabrielle and announced an emergency relief package worth $186m, as officials warned that the final cost of the deadly storm could rise above $8bn.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters on Monday that the storm, which has killed 11 people so far, has caused damage “on a scale not seen in New Zealand for at least a generation”.

He extended the national state of emergency, which was declared last week for only the third time in its history, a further seven days to help the recovery and relief efforts.

The cyclone hit the North Island’s northernmost region on February 12 and tracked down the east coast, inflicting widespread destruction.

“The required investment to reconnect our communities and future-proof our nation’s infrastructure is going to be significant and it will require hard decisions,” Hipkins said.

“We won’t shy away from those hard decisions and are working on a suite of measures to support New Zealanders by building back better, building back safer and building back smarter,” he added.

Earlier on Monday, finance minister Grant Robertson said the total cost to the government could be similar to the 13.5 billion New Zealand dollars ($8.43bn) it spent rebuilding Christchurch after the devastating 2011 earthquake.

Emergency workers help with a clean up after a small creek bursts its bank causing houses to flood in Havelock North, New Zealand
Emergency workers help with a cleanup after a small creek bursts its bank causing houses to flood in Havelock North, New Zealand, on February 18, 2023 [New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via Reuters]

Robertson has been appointed Cyclone Recovery Minister, in addition to his existing portfolio.

The interim relief package announced on Monday provides 250 million New Zealand dollars ($156m) to fix critical roads across disaster-hit regions, and a further 50 million New Zealand dollars ($31m) in emergency support was set aside for businesses and primary producers.

More relief and rebuilding funding from the government is expected.

Police have confirmed 11 deaths in circumstances related to the cyclone, most of those in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island.

Roughly 2,200 people are still unaccounted for.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told the AM Show on Monday the number of deaths would likely rise, adding that difficulty with communications is hampering efforts to make contact with affected people.

New Zealand has deployed 60 Starlink satellites, built by Elon Musk-owned SpaceX, with another 30 on the way, to plug gaps in the telecommunications network as roughly 15,000 people across the North Island remain without power.

Recovery efforts are continuing with search and rescue teams still working in cyclone-damaged areas, while power and telecommunications remain down for some homes.

Roads are closed and people are reporting issues getting cash.

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