WELLINGTON • New Zealanders began cleaning up yesterday after a powerful cyclone swept across the country, forcing families from their homes and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
New Zealand's civil defence authorities lifted severe weather warnings after the tropical cyclone moved off the country's South Island, but also cautioned that the effects of the storm would still be felt in some areas.
The remnants of Cyclone Cook, which battered New Caledonia earlier in the week, struck overnight on Thursday. It caused power outages and landslides, uprooted trees forcing road closures and disrupted air travel, with the eastern coasts of the North and South Islands bearing the brunt.
"The worst is over," meteorologist John Crouch at the official Metservice said just before dawn as over 100 people who had sought shelter at a Whakatane evacuation centre began to return home in the Bay of Plenty region.
Civil defence head Sarah Stuart-Black said emergency crews were assessing the damage and it could take two days for the full extent to be known.
"There are still floodwaters, there will be challenges in terms of access to those areas, and with power down, it also means that water and waste water could be affected as well," she said. "So it's still a risky time in that sense, so we would still urge people to be really cautious about their activities over the next day or two."
There were fears it could be the worst storm to hit New Zealand since 1968, when Cyclone Giselle swept a ferry onto rocks in Wellington Harbour, killing 53.
However, initial reports indicated that the damage was not as severe as expected. There were reports of roofs ripped off and windows smashed, and police said many roads were closed, disrupting traffic as people headed away for the Easter holiday weekend.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS