Cyclone Cook: Evacuations as storm lashes New Zealand

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image copyrightGetty Images
image captionAuckland escaped the worst of the storm, but still suffered some heavy rain

Heavy rain and strong winds are lashing parts of New Zealand as Cyclone Cook, called the worst storm in decades, sweeps across the North Island.

States of emergency have been declared in the Coromandel Peninsula and Bay of Plenty, with landslips, flash flooding and downed power lines closing roads.

Some coastal communities have been evacuated and thousands of homes left without power.

The storm was expected to pass over the capital, Welllington, overnight.

Cyclone Cook killed one person when it swept through the Pacific islands of New Caledonia earlier this week.

media captionBBC Weather's Jay Wynne explains how Cyclone Cook formed and what the forecast holds for New Zealand.

'Gusts like freight trains'

The storm made landfall in the Bay of Plenty at about 18:30 local time (06:30 GMT) on Thursday, where it knocked out power to much of the town of Whakatane, Radio NZ reported.

Red Cross spokeswoman Lauren Hayes told the broadcaster that 114 people were staying in a civil defence shelter there.

Some had arrived with "tales of near misses with uprooted trees and other debris", she tweeted.

image copyrightTwitter/Lauren_Olive

The storm then moved on to batter Hawkes Bay on the eastern coast, where two people were hospitalised after a tree hit their car, the New Zealand Herald reported.

One resident, Malcolm Davie, told the newspaper "enormous gusts like freight trains" had been hitting his house.

"We're really getting hammered. It's a lot worse than we thought," he is quoted as saying.

About 11,000 people in the area were without power, as of 02:00 local time, according to the Unison power company.

Air New Zealand cancelled flights out of Rotorua, Tauranga, Napier and Hamilton in the North Island, and Nelson and Blenheim in the South Island.

The New Zealand Met office said the storm was expected to pass over Wellington at about 03:00 local time on Friday, before reaching Kaikoura on the east of the South Island at 06:00.

image copyrightTVNZ / Reuters
image captionRoads were also flooded in Kaeo, north of Auckland

Severe weather warnings for Auckland, Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty have now been lifted.

Forecasters have been warning of 5m (16ft) waves, storm surges and 150km/h (90mph) winds.

Schools and businesses across the island closed early on Thursday, while residents in affected areas were urged to stock up on emergency supplies and avoid all but essential travel.

The storm comes after severe floods caused by the remnants of Cyclone Debbie hit some parts of the country last week.

The storm has been classified as an extra-tropical cyclone. That means it has changed into a different weather system as it approached to New Zealand, but has not necessarily weakened or been downgraded, according to New Zealand's MetService.

image copyrightNZ Defence Forces
image captionThe military helped with preparations
image copyrightEPA / Nasa
image captionThe cyclone swept through the South Pacific before approaching New Zealand (in outline)

The cyclone formed around Vanuatu on Sunday before moving towards New Caledonia, bringing heavy rain and winds and causing cuts to power and water supplies.

New Zealand weather officials said Cyclone Cook would be the worst to hit the country since 1968.

They have warned that it would bring a "phenomenal" amount of rain and wind, reported The New Zealand Herald newspaper, compared with Cyclone Debbie which was more spread out.

Cyclone Debbie hit Australia at the end of March, before its remnants moved towards New Zealand.

It soaked New Zealand cities like Wellington and Auckland. Authorities are now worried about how Cyclone Cook will impact land that is already saturated from heavy rains.

image copyright@bowlshut
image captionDespite disruption, some people's positive attitude was not totally dampened by the storm

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