WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The death toll from New Zealand’s cyclone reached eight on Friday with more than 4,500 people still unaccounted for four days after the nation’s most destructive weather event in decades brought widespread flooding, landslides and power outages, the prime minister said.
Cyclone Gabrielle struck the country’s north on Monday and the level of damage has been compared to Cyclone Bola in 1988. That storm was the most destructive on record to hit the nation of 5 million people.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said three more fatalities had been confirmed since Thursday and police held “grave fears” for other missing persons.
“Police report that there are 4,549 persons reported as uncontactable. A team of 80 people are working now to narrow down this list as quickly as possible and to prioritize contact with those who are most likely to be missing,” Hipkins told reporters.
Hipkins said he didn’t know how far the death toll would climb.
“The thing is we don’t know. We’re not talking huge numbers,” he said. “It’s not like I’m aware that there are lots and lots and lots out there that we’re not reporting. We’re still picking up one or two (fatalities) at a time,” he added.
Hipkins also said police hadn’t specified to him how many people were considered to be of serious concern, but “there are several people that they are very concerned about.”
A team of 25 Australian disaster response experts arrived Friday in New Zealand to help local authorities.
The North Island east coast around New Zealand’s most populous city, Auckland, has been hardest hit and several communities remained isolated on Friday.
Auckland was swamped two weeks ago by a record-breaking storm that killed four people.