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Cyclone Gabrielle rips through New Zealand’s North Island

New Zealand has declared an emergency over Cyclone Gabrielle, as Prime Minister labels it the “worst storm to hit the country this century.”

Large parts of New Zealand’s North Island have been devastated, and at least 46,000 homes left without power, as Cyclone Gabrielle blasts across the northernmost tip of the island.

According to local reports, around 2,500 people have been left displaced and severe flooding has left people clinging to rooftops while waters rise and torrential rain continues to batter homes and neighbourhoods.

It is only the third time in New Zealand’s history that a national state of emergency has been declared.

Among the areas worst hit by the storm, which peaked on Monday night, are the coastal region of Gisborne, Tairāwhiti, parts of Hawkes Bay, Waikato and Northland.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand said it had lost all communication with crews on the ground in the early hours of Tuesday morning, while one weather report said that Hawkes Bay received three times the amount of rain in one night than it usually would during the whole month of February.

“While the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle are ongoing and this is still an active crisis, we are currently working diligently to fully understand the effects on our people, vineyards, facilities and business at large,” a spokesperson from Villa Maria, told the drinks business. Villa Maria has vineyards in Gisborne, which are understood to have been cut off from phone, power and internet.

“Cyclone Gabrielle is the most significant weather event New Zealand has seen in this century,” said Chris Hipkins, the country’s Prime Minister in a statement, before announcing a NZ$11.5 million (£6 million) aid package on Monday.

“The severity and the damage that we are seeing has not been experienced in a generation.”

He continued: “We are still building a picture of the effects of the cyclone as it continues to unfold. But what we do know is the impact is significant and it is widespread. There are a lot of families displaced, a lot of homes without power, extensive damage done across the country.”

The military has been called up to help with evacuations and deliver supplies in the worst-impacted parts of the North Island.

The drinks business has reached out to wine producers to learn how vineyards and livelihoods have fared in the disaster.

“The impact of Cyclone Gabrielle, and the extent of the damage on vineyards in badly flooded areas, is still being assessed,” said a spokesperson for New Zealand Winegrowers, the national body for the country’s wine industry.

“This is a significant weather event in the North Island of New Zealand, and it has occurred on the cusp of the busiest time of year for the industry. It is a serious concern for growers and wineries in badly affected areas. Post-Cyclone Gabrielle, dry and sunny weather will be needed to mitigate any short-term damage on this year’s vintage, and reduce disease pressure on the grapes.”

However, producers are determined to face any challenges head on.

“The ongoing challenges over the past few years have proven the resilience and adaptability of the New Zealand wine community, and this unprecedented event will be met with the same strength,” said the spokesperson. “Our industry’s most important priority continues to be keeping our people and our communities safe.”

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