New Zealand braces for impact of Cyclone Gabrielle

In what is proving to be a dramatic start to 2023 for the country, New Zealand’s government has now declared a state of emergency following the devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.

The latest severe natural catastrophe event to wreak havoc on the nation comes only a fortnight after severe flooding caused extensive damage in Auckland and the surrounding region, with beleaguered insurers now preparing to handle thousands of claims that will arise because of the storm.

The cyclone hit the North Island of New Zealand, leading to the government announcing a national state of emergency on 14 February due to the devastation – the third time in history this has happened. 

Nearly a third of the country’s population live in the affected regions.

New Zealand’s climate change minister was clear where responsibility lay.

“As I stand here today, I struggle to find words to express what I am thinking and feeling about this particular crisis,” James Shaw told parliament. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt as sad or as angry about 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, because it is clearly here now, and if we do not act, it will get worse.”

Air New Zealand scrapped 500 flights in the aftermath of the cyclone, including domestic routes to and from Auckland.

“The severity and the damage that we are seeing has not been experienced in a generation,” said Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. “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.”

Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) CEO Tim Grafton added: “While Gabrielle is yet to pass, insurers are already prepared with all available staff on hand to get on with accepting claims, prioritising those displaced from their homes or otherwise needing extra care.”

Kieran McAnulty, minister of emergency management, said that while New Zealand was now through the worst of the storm, more rain and high winds were expected.

The country continues suffering from extensive flooding, landslides and damage to roads and infrastructure, he added.