In the beginning of February 2018, ex-tropical cyclone Fehi smashed into the West Coast, the South Island of New Zealand, destroying homes, closing roads and triggering discussion about the vulnerability of coastal communities. Just three weeks later, the locals faced a new disaster – Cyclone Gita that approached the same region of the country but with more devastating effect.
Tropical Cyclone Gita passed by Samoa on 10 February 2018 and Niue on 11 February 2018, with damages reported in Samoa, including localized flooding. On 12 February, a state of emergency was declared by the Government of Tonga amid the cyclone. The same day, the National Disaster Management Office in Fiji also announced that Gita is considered as a Category 5 cyclone, meaning the cyclone is extremely dangerous with widespread destruction and damaging storm surges, with its strongest winds being 252 km/h or higher (157 mph or higher). In the following days, Vanuatu and New Caledonia were on alert as the cyclone headed toward the small islands. On the 17 February, it was obvious that Gita was heading towards New Zealand for a possible landfall on 20 February. Travelers in New Zealand were immediately informed by SAFEY about the associated risks, like high winds, heavy rainfall, possible power and water shortages, potential damage to infrastructure, disruptions to flights and ground based traffic, and flooding in some low-lying areas.
On 20 February, a state of emergency was been declared in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. Excessive delays were reported at the Christchurch International Airport (CHC) due to the adverse weather. People living in low-lying areas were told to prepare for evacuation due to high risk of flooding. That same day, parts of West Coast of South Island experienced disruptions as the storm was hammering the area with winds of up to 150 kph (93.2 mph) and knocked out power to about 23,000 properties. The situation forced Nelson, Westland, Buller, Greymouth, and Selwyn districts of South Island to declare a state of emergency. Some towns, like Granity, Bullar district, issued evacuations due to coastal flooding. The south-western parts of North Island of New Zealand, for instance, Paraparaumu and Taranaki, were also affected by the disaster; heavy rains and high tides causing flooding were reported in the area.
The system weakened after 21 February and the general situation in the area had improved soon but SAFEY continued to provide information on potential risks. When another tropical cyclone – Cyclone Hola – hit the Northern Island of New Zealand on 10 March, SAFEY users were warned about it in advance.
During this period, SAFEY continuously updated its users about the situation in New Zealand and the cyclone related disruptions with the first incident report being published on 16 February. More than 18 notifications regarding the cyclone Gita, 10 of which for New Zealand, were sent out to SAFEY users. Additionally, the SAFEY team also made sure all pertinent information was relayed timely. Besides strong winds, heavy rainfalls and coastal flooding, we sent alerts with information that contained evacuation efforts of city-dweller, rescue teams operations, and the flight and on-ground disruptions so that travelers could take necessary steps to adjust their travel plans accordingly.
For SAFEY, keeping travelers updated in such situations will always be a priority so that they can minimize the impacts from the disruptions as much as possible.
The following is a timeline of the events as well as SAFEY and media reports:
On 10-15 February, SAFEY reported on the Tropical Cyclone Gita strengthening in the western Pacific Ocean as it tracked westward away from Samoa and Niue towards Tonga, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The system developed into a Category 5 cyclone by 12 February and was likely to bring severe disruptions in countries laying on its way, including New Zealand.
- First alert by SAFEY for New Zealand at 23:39 (GMT+12) on 16 February
- The first alert from SAFEY as Tropical Cyclone Gita headed towards New Zealand for a possible landfall on 20 February. SAFEY warned about high winds, heavy rainfall, possible power and water shortages. SAFEY also advised to re-confirm all flight and travel plans.
- Second alert by SAFEY at 21:55 (GMT+1) on 18 February
- Second alert to confirm that cyclone Gita was due to make landfall in New Zealand by 20 February and to advise those in the region to make adequate preparations in line with local authorities and emergency services’ recommendations.
- Multiple alerts by SAFEY on 20 February
- Six alerts were sent out by SAFEY on 20 February alone informing about the state of emergency issued by local authorities in different parts of the country – first, in Christchurch, then in several parts of South and North Islands. Additionally, alerts contained information on traffic and public transportation disruptions and closure of ports. The users were advised of flights cancellation at the Christchurch International Airport (CHC) signaling a dramatic escalation in consequences for the adverse weather, with flight and travel disruptions now occurring nation-wide. Those living in low-lying areas have been told to prepare for evacuation if necessary due to high risk of flooding.
- Multiple alerts by SAFEY on 21-22 February
- At least several alerts were sent out on rescue operations for tourists caught by rising waters in Takaka Valley, South Island, and evacuations in Paraparaumu and K?piti Coast District, North Island.