WELLINGTON • Parts of New Zealand's North Island were lashed by heavy rain and strong winds yesterday as Cyclone Cook, billed as the worst to hit the country since 1968, made landfall.
Thousands of people were evacuated from coastal areas ahead of the cyclone's approach, with schools and offices shutting early in the day.
Most residents took heed of civil defence warnings and had moved to higher ground hours before the cyclone struck, reported The Guardian.
Forecasters had warned of 5m-high waves, storm surges and 150kmh winds, as well as a "phenomenal" amount of rain. The cyclone has already killed one person in New Caledonia after it swept through earlier this week.
A state of emergency was declared earlier in the day in the Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Plenty, reported the BBC, with landslips, flash flooding, fallen trees and downed power lines closing roads.
But while a weather warning was given for Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, it was spared the brunt of the cyclone, reported The Guardian. "It seems Auckland has largely survived... unscathed," Auckland Mayor Phil Goff tweeted.
But elsewhere in the North Island, thousands of homes were without power, many in Whakatane and Tauranga, according to local media. The military placed 500 troops on standby to assist affected people if required.
By about 9pm local time (5pm Singapore time), the storm had moved towards Hawkes Bay on the east of the North Island, which enabled the warnings over the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel to be lifted. Cyclone Cook was expected to next head southward towards Wellington, before heading out to sea by the weekend, reported The Guardian.
Severe weather warnings remained in place for Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa, Wellington, Marlborough and Kaikoura, reported Radio New Zealand.
Cyclone Cook has been classified as an extra-tropical cyclone, which means that it changed into a different weather system as it approached, though it has not necessarily weakened or been downgraded, according to the Met Service, reported the BBC.
Flights across the country were either delayed or cancelled, with Air New Zealand suspending operations from Tauranga Airport in the North Island. However, Changi Airport told The Straits Times that for the moment, no flights between Singapore and New Zealand had been affected by the cyclone.
The cyclone comes just a week after severe floods in New Zealand caused by the remnants of Cyclone Debbie, which battered Australia.