February 21, 2018 / 5:27 AM / 7 months ago

Former cyclone Gita traverses New Zealand, batters South Island

(Reuters) - At least 5,000 people in New Zealand’s South Island were cut off by massive landslips and hundreds of tourists stranded on Wednesday after former cyclone Gita whipped through the country, sparking a state of emergency in several southern towns.

Torrential rains from Gita, which was downgraded on Tuesday from a tropical cyclone to storm, lashed the centre of New Zealand, causing floods in the city of Christchurch and other provinces.

Heavy rain caused landslips, closing arterial roads, including a state highway.

New Zealand’s weather bureau told local media the worst was likely over.

Motueka River swollen after Gita storm hit New Zealand is seen in Tasman, New Zealand, in this still image taken from a video from February 20, 2018. Mandatory credit. Sara Jowsey via REUTERS

“Really the heavy rain now is focused from Canterbury down to Otago this morning, then that gradually eases,” MetService meteorologist Karl Loots told the Dominion Post.

“The worst impacts for most have past.”

Cyclone Gita hit the Pacific island nations of Fiji and Tonga last week, packing winds up to 275 kph (171 mph). Fiji escaped major damage but Tonga suffered widespread destruction and flooding. Earlier, the storm had caused extensive damage in Samoa and American Samoa.

In New Zealand’s South Island, about 200 tourists were still trapped after spending the night in their buses or in welfare centres, Radio NZ reported.

Schools in Canterbury remained shut on Wednesday and around 14,000 households in the central North Island remained without power.

The Takaka Hill is pictured after the storm Gita hit New Zealand, in this still image taken from a drone footage from February 20, 2018 obtained from social media. James Thomas via REUTERS

Reporting by Swati Pandey in Sydney; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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