A state of emergency was declared in New Zealand on Monday, due to the cyclone Gabriel that is pounding the island country.

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

Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty said the cyclone’s devastating impact required a concerted effort by authorities to support those affected. “This is an unprecedented weather phenomenon, which has a significant impact on a large part of the North Island,” McAnalty said.

A state of emergency has been declared in New Zealand twice before: the first in 2011 due to the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck Christchurch and the second at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The eye of the cyclone is currently 100 kilometers north-east of Auckland, heading south-west. The MetService estimates that the rain will gradually ease in Auckland, but will continue to affect areas further south.

Brought with gale-force winds and heavy rain, Gabriel caused widespread flooding in New Zealand’s North Island and forced authorities to evacuate coastal settlements. Tens of thousands of households have been left without electricity, traffic has been disrupted on several roads and some areas have been cut off.

Images that have come to light show residents taking refuge on the roofs of flooded buildings, as well as landslides that have hit settlements.

The fire service said one volunteer firefighter was trapped in a house that was swept away by a landslide near Oakland, while a second firefighter was rescued and is in critical condition.

A Navy ship rushed to the aid of a yacht that sent out a distress signal off the country’s eastern coast.

“It has been and continues to be a serious (weather) event for our area,” said Rachel Kelleher, a spokeswoman for Oakland’s emergency management agency, urging residents to wait for further guidance from authorities.