Cyclone Hale has made landfall on the East Coast with gale-force winds, 6m swells on the coast and heavy rain, and has caused flooding, slips and road closures across several regions of the North Island.
It swept over Northland, Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier Island on Tuesday morning, and was forecast to reach Marlborough and the North Canterbury coastline from Wednesday morning.
A state of local emergency has been declared for Tairāwhiti, and MetService said Northland and North Auckland had nearly a month's worth of rain in the past 24 hours.
The rain was predicted to peak in most areas on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning, exacerbating flooding in the regions.
By Tuesday night, MetService Heavy Rain Warnings were still in place for Coromandel Peninsula, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, the Tararua Ranges and eastern parts of the Wairarapa. In some cases those warnings were expected to last into Wednesday evening.
Heavy Rain Watches were in place Tuesday night for parts of Taranaki, the central North Island and Marlborough and Canterbury coasts, and Strong Wind Watches were issued for eastern Taupō, southern Taranaki, coastal Whanganui, Manawatū, Horowhenua, Kāpiti and Wellington.
But the rain had eased in Northland and Auckland by Tuesday evening, and Heavy Rain Warnings for those areas were lifted.
Cyclone Hale was forecast to move off New Zealand to the southeast late on Wednesday.
⭕ Cyclone Hale doesn't look particularly dramatic on this true colour imagery, as it lacks a visible eye— MetService (@MetService) January 9, 2023
However, the clouds sweeping out from the low centre and spreading over the North Island are carrying bands of heavy rain and the winds are still strong pic.twitter.com/aMoGYldbDY
Tolaga Bay residents near Hikuwai River asked to prepare for evacuation - Willowflat evacuating
A state of local emergency had been declared for Tairāwhiti, the East Coast. This gave Civil Defence special powers to deal with the emergency and co-ordinate other emergency services.
The area was being hammered by Cyclone Hale, with evacuations already underway Willowflat, roads closed in places, and surface flooding across the Gisborne region.
The power was out in some areas along the coast.
Gisborne District Council said rain models show the Hikuwai River, a tributary into the Uawa River, could peak at 13.5m on Tuesday night - exceeding the record 12.4m reached in 2005.
By 6.30pm Tuesday the river had risen past the 11 metre mark, and the peak was expected about 11pm, the council said.
Civil Defence was urging anyone remaining in the Willowflat area near the river to evacuate their homes as soon as they can.
While other residents in low-lying areas near the river in Uawa were asked to prepare to evacuate and farmers were encouraged to move their stock to higher ground.
Civil Defence had been activated in all rural and coastal areas.
Shanan Gray from Uawa Civil Defence said many people had already self-evacuated from the area and were staying with whānau.
Anyone in the Tolaga Bay area stuck for an evacuation point could seek shelter at Hauiti Marae, on Hauiti Road, just off State Highway 35, directly south of the township of Tolaga Bay, he said.
Cyclone Hale was expected to continue to bring heavy rain and gales to the upper North Island.
Gray said the Tolaga Bay township was safe from flooding, but the surrounding farmlands were at risk.
Gisborne District Council said it was watching areas near State Highway 2 at Te Karaka and the Waipaoa River.
Anyone who had to self-evacuate could go to Te Karaka Area School.
Gisborne roads saturated, residents ask to stay home and reduce water use
Gisborne's Mayor Rehette Stoltz asked people to stay at home and take care as rain and wind continued to batter the region, causing dangerous conditions on the roads with flooding and slips in places.
"State Highway 35 between Uawa and Ruatoria are closed, all our heavy forestry routes are closed," Stoltz said.
"People please stay home! We'll keep you updated via our Tairāwhiti Civil Defence page."
Gisborne District Council said anyone who needed help could contact the Civil Defence team on 0800 653 800.
More than 100mm of rain fell overnight from Monday night into Tuesday night in the ranges near Gisborne, and about 40mm in Gisborne.
In an update on Tuesday evening, Tairāwhiti Civil Defence said another 150mm to 200mm of rain was still expected to fall until 4am Wednesday, which could add to a total rainfall during the storm of 250mm to 350mm.
"Peak rates of 15 to 25mm an hour are possible until tonight", it said. The worst was expected to fall about 9pm, coinciding with high tide at 9.30pm.
Power was lost to about 53 homes during Tuesday and was expected to remain out overnight, the council said.
Unpaved roads in the region were closed and campers near the coast had headed home.
Tairāwhiti Civil Defence asked people to check on their neighbours.
State Highway 35 would be closed from 7pm Tuesday between Te Puia Springs and Ruatōria after some roads slumped.
Several people were rescued today near Gisborne when their vehicle became stuck in a flooded stream.
The council posted on social media that police and the fire service were called to help those trapped in the vehicle after the severe weather hit last night.
Unsealed roads would remain closed to freight trucks in the region until 8pm Wednesday.
Tairāwhiti Civil Defence announced the closure, which kicked in at 8pm Tuesday, because of Cyclone Hale.
Forestry company Ernslaw One backed the decision. Regional manager Bill Wheeler said workers were meant to return from holiday on Tuesday, but that had now been delayed until Thursday.
Meanwhile, contractors were dealing with sewer manholes bubbling up due to the large volume of rainfall in the sewer network coming from properties.
Council 4 Waters operation manager Chris Hopman said the emergency valve at the Gladstone Road Bridge had been opened to release the pressure at 8am Tuesday.
"The Wainui Road pump station is at the highest level we've ever seen. We ask residents to please avoid unnecessary water use in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry.
"We need to open the valves into waterways to avoid wastewater overflows into people's homes and through manholes on the street, which can cause health risks."
Flooding and slips on State Highway 1 across upper North Island
Police advised motorists to avoid travel in Northland unless it was urgent, and especially to stay away from the coast.
MetService had lifted the Heavy Rain Warning for Northland, but hazards resulting from the weather remained.
Motorists faced detours on parts of State Highway 1 due to flooding and slips from the heavy rain.
A tree had fallen across the northbound lane of the highway near Dome Valley in Warkworth. There were no reports of injuries.
The southbound lane was open, but motorists travelling in the area should expect significant delays.
Further north, SH1 over the Brynderwyn Hills was partially closed in both directions due to severe surface flooding and slips.
Traffic was being diverted through the intersection between SH14 and SH1.
In Whangārei, Riverside Drive was down to one lane and smaller cars were warned to avoid Memorial Drive due to surface flooding, police said.
SH15 between Loop Rd, Otaika and Maungatapere, south of Whangārei was closed due to flooding.
Kokupu Block Rd was also closed due to flooding in Maungatapere.
Police said two vehicles stuck in flooding on Waiteitei Road in Wellsford had since made it out. There were no reports of injuries.
In the already slip-plagued Mangamuka Gorge, north of Kaitoke, another stretch of SH1 had to be closed due to multiple large slips and dropouts, Waka Kotahi said.
Motorists were advised to detour via State Highway 10 or delay travel wherever possible.
Flooding in Aotea Great Barrier Island, Hawke's Bay braces for impact
There were also flooding and slips on Aotea / Great Barrier Island.
Local board chair Izzy Fordham said there were a few slips being dealt with by contractors, but campgrounds on the island had already cleared out after last week's storm.
The local emergency management team was on call and Fordham said residents were hunkered down, waiting for the storm to pass.
A Heavy Rain Warning for Hawke's Bay was expected to last until 10am Wednesday, and MetService said heavy falls were still possible in the area inland through Wednesday afternoon and evening.
Hawke's Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management controller Ian Macdonald said residents should stay home during the worst of the weather, and strong winds were also expected from Tuesday night.
Emergency services were co-ordinating efforts in the area, Macdonald said.
Tuesday's emojicast:— NIWA Weather (@NiwaWeather) January 9, 2023
Coromandel Peninsula: Power cuts and road closures
The rainfall on the Coromandel Peninsula increased in intensity on Tuesday morning, with more falling through the day.
Thames Valley Civil Defence controller Garry Towler said a total of 400mm of rain was expected by 10pm Tuesday, the equivalent of the total rainfall over the past week.
He said further road closures could be expected later today.
The state highway on the eastern coast of the Peninsula between Hikuai and Whitianga was likely to close, as well as SH25 going into Thames.
Towler said the damage to roads was as significant as a one in 20-year storm event.
A MetService Heavy Rain Warning remained in place for the Coromandel Peninsula area till 2am Wednesday.
More than 100 homes in Coromandel were without power earlier on Tuesday.
"We had quite a lot of impact last night," Towler told Morning Report.
The eastern seaboard has been most affected, he said, and it was highly likely the entire eastern seaboard would close after high tide, he said.
"We've got widespread flooding, we've got a number of slips all the way from Hikuai all the way up to Whitianga. Widespread phone and power outages as well.
"The impact is quite dramatic in terms of what is still to come but also we've got to keep this in context because we had over 400mm of rain last week and there's just no capacity to absorb some of this stuff."
In Whitianga, 136 properties in the town of Whenuakite had been without electricity since 2am on Tuesday. The network company was investigating the cause of the outage.
At 11am, police advised residents to stay indoors and away from the coast as high tide was due at 11.15am.
Several roads in Thames-Coromandel district were closed because of the storm.