New Zealand: child missing in cave as country hit by heavy rain and flooding

New Zealand: child missing in cave as country hit by heavy rain and flooding

A child is missing in a caving system as torrential rain and flooding hits the North Island of New Zealand.

Heavy rain fell throughout Tuesday morning, causing slips and extensive flooding in areas, many of which were devastated by extreme weather in January and February.

A school student remained missing in a cave system in Whangarei, Northland, after a school group got into difficulty on Tuesday morning. Supt Tony Hill, the Northland district commander, said it was reported about 10.35am that a group of high school students “was in difficulty” doing an exercise in the Abbey caves.

“A group of people have since made it out safely, however, one student is currently unaccounted for,” he said. “The incident is still very much developing,” with search and rescue teams responding. “Our thoughts are with the whānau [family] of the missing child, as well as all those involved in the group outing and the school.”

The local council website advises visitors that the “caves can be prone to flash flooding”. Rain began falling steadily in Whangerei on Tuesday morning, with heavy rainfall warnings in place from 9am. Metservice, the national broadcasting service, warned that “heavy rain may cause streams and rivers to rise rapidly”.

Across Auckland, flooding was beginning to hit regions still recovering from the last bout of floods, which hit at the end of January. Auckland experienced serious flooding in January which killed four people, and then in February Cyclone Gabrielle caused widespread damage across much of the North Island and left at least 11 people dead.

Officials for New Zealand’s largest city declared a state of emergency early on Tuesday afternoon, as hours of heavy rain swelled the rivers and began to flood roads, homes and businesses in the city.

Metservice issued severe thunderstorm warnings across the Auckland region, and an orange heavy rain warning and other severe weather alerts across the upper North Island.

MetService meteorologist Georgina Griffiths said the heavy rain was expected to last around another five hours and have a significant impact. “The region is so saturated after a very rough four or five months … the Auckland region has received 90% of its annual normal rainfall in the first third of the year.”

Auckland Emergency Managementduty controller Rachel Kellehersaid at 2pm that there was “flooding across the region, and it’s fairly widespread right throughout, not just in specific areas”. She said rain was falling at a rate of about 30-35mls in an hour, with more heavy rain expected to fall in the afternoon and evening.

Brad Mosby, district manager at Fire and Emergency NZ, said it had responding to more than 200 weather-related incidents in Auckland on Tuesday, including 155 between midday and 2pm. Most were related to flooded buildings and slips, with some people also trapped in vehicles. He said emergency workers were “prioritising those [callouts] that are life risk”.

New Zealand Treasury estimates the cost of the January and February weather events at between NZ$9-14.5bn.

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