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Wellington, Feb 17 – The death toll due to cyclone Gabrielle that hit New Zealand’s North Island on February 12 has mounted to eight.
Over 35,000 were missing due to the adverse event, the level of which New Zealand has not seen since the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011, the authorities said.
“This is the biggest natural disaster seen this century with a considerable scale of damage,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told media on Friday in the Hawke’s Bay, which has been severely damaged by floods, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The eight deaths in the extreme storm include a child, whose body was found in Eskdale on Friday. The two-year-old girl was believed to have been caught in rising water on Thursday, police said.
The body of a volunteer firefighter was also recovered from a landslide in Muriwai, Auckland on Thursday.
“The whole country will be feeling for them at the moment,” Hipkins said, adding that there will be more fatalities.
The death toll increased fast on Thursday and Friday.
While a large number of the missing reports are expected to be the result of communication lines being down, police can confirm that there are several people missing in the Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti areas, and are now focused on critical support for the Eastern District.
Gisborne residents, on the east coast, were asked to stop using water as the region’s water plant has failed.
“We are throwing everything at it,” Hipkins said, adding that officials are working as quickly as possible to get people into accommodation.
Police said more than 70 staff have been redeployed from other parts of New Zealand to Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti to support recovery efforts and provide community reassurance.