Cyclone Gabrielle losses expected to top $8 billion

The final cost of Cyclone Gabrielle could rise above $8 billion, according to officials, as New Zealand announced an emergency relief package.

The package, worth $186m, comes as Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said 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 also 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.

Robertson blamed the extent of the damage inflicted by Gabrielle on New Zealand’s failure to build infrastructure that’s resilient to climate change, adding that the current approach to adapt “has not been sufficiently robust”.

Not even tens of billions of dollars in additional infrastructure spending over the next five years can fill in the gaps, he added. “The deficit is so large, we will not be able to make up for it in the long term,” he said.

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

Earlier, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the total cost to government could be similar to the NZ$13.5 billion ($8.4 billion) it spent rebuilding Christchurch after the devastating 2011 earthquake. 

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

The interim package provides NZ$250 million to fix critical roads across disaster hit regions, and a further NZ$50 million in emergency support was set aside for businesses and primary producers. 

Further relief and re-building funding from the government is expected.

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

Meanwhile, Insurance Australia Group (IAG)’s New Zealand operations – AMI, State and NZI – received 2,300 claims from customers affected by Cyclone Gabrielle, the carrier said in an update on 17 February.