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New Zealand starts clean-up after torrential rains, flash floods

The nation's weather forecaster says while heavy rain has eased, another period of downpours is possible on Sunday.

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Cars are seen in a flooded street during heavy rainfall in Auckland, New Zealand, Jan 27, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video. Photo: Reuters
Cars are seen in a flooded street during heavy rainfall in Auckland, New Zealand, Jan 27, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video. Photo: Reuters

Authorities in New Zealand's biggest city Auckland began mopping up on Saturday, a day after torrential rains brought flooding and evacuations, shutting airports and forcing organisers to cancel a scheduled concert by Elton John.

A state of emergency remained in place in the city of around 1.6 million people on New Zealand's north island as the rains eased after causing flooding in the north, northwest and west.

Auckland Emergency Management – part of the city's council, said daylight had revealed the first "true understanding" of the impact of the storm, caused by warm air descending from the tropics which sparked heavy rain and thunderstorms.

"Auckland was clobbered on Friday – Auckland's wettest day on record – and today we start the clean-up," the agency's duty controller Andrew Clark said in a statement, urging caution for residents returning home to survey flood damage.

"We won't start to get a good idea of numbers affected until later today and, even then, this will take time, with information still coming in and many assessments to complete," he said.

Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty tweeted that he and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins would visit Auckland on Saturday "to assess the damage from this event".

The nation's weather forecaster said while heavy rain had eased, another period of downpours was possible on Sunday.

Showers were "dotted around Auckland" with some heavy west of the city, Auckland Emergency Management tweeted, while warning residents to "stay safe" amid the crisis.

"We're not out of this yet. Heavy rain returns tomorrow," the agency wrote on the social media platform.

Two men were found dead amid the flooding, New Zealand Police said. A search was under way for another man believed swept away. Another person was unaccounted for after a landslide hit a house in an inner suburb of Auckland, police said.

More than 2,000 calls for assistance have been made around the city, the New Zealand Herald reported on Saturday

Auckland Airport, which closed both domestic and international operations on Friday, was shuttered until Saturday afternoon when some local flights resumed.

Air New Zealand said its domestic flights in and out of Auckland resumed from noon, and advised it was assessing whether international flights would also restart.

The airport was scheduled to open its international terminal from 5pm local time, Air New Zealand said in a statement.

The airline had 12 international flights due into Auckland diverted overnight, it said earlier on Saturday.

On Friday, social media showed firefighters, police and defence force staff rescuing stranded people from flooded homes using ropes and rescue boats.

The flooding also forced cancellation of British musician Elton John's concert in the city. Some 40,000 people had been expected to attend.