New Zealand Searches for Missing as Cyclone Death Toll Rises

New Zealand is still searching for people missing in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle amid fears the death toll will continue to climb.

(Bloomberg) — New Zealand is still searching for people missing in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle amid fears the death toll will continue to climb.

Five people are now confirmed dead after the cyclone devastated large areas of the nation’s North Island, causing landslips and flooding that forced thousands from their homes and left many communities cut off and without power. 

“We are using every available resource to find those who are missing and rescue those we know about but haven’t yet been able to get to,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters Thursday evening. “I’ve just returned from Gisborne where the damage is extensive and people are in a state of shock. There’s no doubt communities are under enormous pressure.”

New Zealand faces a significant clean-up task to repair roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Finance Minister Grant Robertson said there will be a sizable impact on the economy, which will affect the government’s operating and capital spending plans in the current and subsequent years, though it is too soon to estimate the cost.

Police said more than 3,500 people have been registered as uncontactable, the vast majority from the Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti regions on the east of the North Island, with telecommunications outages making it difficult to contact those missing. 

“We know many people are concerned about family members and friends,” it said. “Police are focused on locating those unaccounted for and reaching anyone who may have been isolated by floodwaters.”

Power is slowly being restored in some areas but more than 100,000 homes remain without electricity, while stores are running low on essential supplies.

Army ships and truck convoys are helping bring water and other necessities to the largest towns, but many roads remain closed to normal traffic and could be for some time.

Assistant Chief of Defence Darren Webb said New Zealand is assessing offers of international assistance, including from neighboring Australia, but currently feels it has the resources to cope alone.

The cyclone has highlighted the fragility of nation’s infrastructure including roads, power and communications networks, Hipkins said.

“There’s no question that as a country we need to look at the resilience of our infrastructure and we need to do that with a much greater sense of urgency than we have ever seen before,” he said. “We can’t continue the way that we have been going. We are going to see more of these types of weather events, so we have to be prepared.”

(Updates with prime minister’s comments)

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