At least five dead in New Zealand as Cyclone Gabrielle batters devastated

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At least five dead in New Zealand as Cyclone Gabrielle batters devastated

At least five people have died and evacuations are continuing as new storm warnings are announced in areas of New Zealand that have been devastated by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Five people have been confirmed dead in the storm, and the government has said there are grave concerns for others after reports from residents in the Hawke's Bay region of seeing now-missing household members swept away by flood waters.

As the emergency response continued, new storms were arriving, with severe thunderstorm alerts issued on Thursday morning for the worst-hit areas.

Three of the areas that have experienced the highest levels of flooding, damage, and loss of life were affected by a severe thunderstorm warning issued by the National Weather Service on Thursday afternoon.

The MetService said there were very unstable conditions including heavy rain and hail. Rainfall of this intensity can cause surface and flash flooding, especially about low-lying areas.

On Thursday morning, new evacuation orders were issued for residents of central Hawke's Bay, with those around Drumpeel Road told to leave immediately. Large parts of the Hawke's Bay region were without power and were expected to remain there for weeks, with thousands of people displaced.

As the flood waters recede, they are revealing huge destruction: homes partly submerged in silt and mud, or shifted off their foundations. The Eastern Police District Commander Supt Jeanette Park said on Thursday morning that it was just unbelievable the devastation. Hawke's Bay civil defence officials said they were working through 3,000 reports of people who remained uncontactable, but they also said some of them could have been reported twice. More than 1,400 people were uncontactable on a missing-person database, police said on Wednesday night.

On Thursday morning, Urban Search and Rescue said they were still rescuing people from their homes in Hawke's Bay. In a radio interview, Napier-based Urban Search and Rescue specialist Ken Cooper said people had been climbing from roofs to shelter in the upper parts of their properties.

He said that people have moved to the roof voids of their properties, so at this moment we are still rescuing people from their properties and there are a large number of people unaccounted for.

On Thursday, the prime minister of New Zealand, Chris Hipkins, was expected to travel to Gisborne to meet residents and first responders on the ground.