Storm grounds Wellington flights, state of emergency in Christchurch

Debris floating on a river in Bainham, New Zealand, yesterday in this photograph obtained from social media (Facebook/Billy Haldane). Heavy rain in the centre of New Zealand brought floods in Christchurch.
Debris floating on a river in Bainham, New Zealand, yesterday in this photograph obtained from social media (Facebook/Billy Haldane). Heavy rain in the centre of New Zealand brought floods in Christchurch.

WELLINGTON • New Zealand's national carrier yesterday cancelled all flights in and out of the capital, Wellington, and the southern city of Christchurch declared a state of emergency as the remnants of tropical cyclone Gita pummelled the country, Reuters reported.

Even before the storm hit in full force, heavy rain in the centre of New Zealand brought floods in Christchurch, prompting a warning from Mayor Lianne Dalziel.

"The full impact of the storm will be felt overnight and tomorrow morning," she said yesterday. "We are expecting homes to be flooded."

Air New Zealand said all flights to the capital would be grounded from 2.45pm (9.45am Singapore) as the authorities issued warnings of severe weather and heavy rain and wind gusts of up to 150kmh, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said troops had fanned out to areas likely to be the hardest hit and the national civil defence office in Wellington was on standby to help.

Cyclone Gita hit the Pacific island nations of Fiji and Tonga last week, packing winds of up to 275kmh. Fiji escaped major damage but Tonga suffered widespread destruction and flooding. Earlier, the storm caused extensive damage in Samoa and American Samoa.

The cyclone had since been downgraded to a storm, but forecasters said it was still likely to wreak havoc yesterday evening as it traversed the centre of New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said all its flights to and from New Zealand were still operating as scheduled. SIA - which flies daily to Auckland and Christchurch, and four times weekly to Wellington via Canberra - was still closely monitoring the situation.

For now, many Singapore tourists in New Zealand do not appear to be greatly affected, said some travel agencies.

Ms Justine Koh, Chan Brothers Travel's marketing communications executive, said the agency has one group of travellers currently in Wellington slated to depart for Auckland by coach yesterday.

"Their touring schedule remains unaffected," she said. "As of now, we have not received any calls of concern or requests for cancellations for travel to New Zealand and the situation remains status quo."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'Storm grounds Wellington flights, state of emergency in Christchurch'. Print Edition | Subscribe