New Zealand cyclone death toll rises to five

Hawkes Bay PLTOFF CALLUM POST/ New Zealand Defence Force/ AFP

New Zealand stepped up recovery efforts on Thursday after Cyclone Gabrielle left at least five people dead and displaced 9,000 in the country's most damaging storm in decades.

Gabrielle, which hit New Zealand on Sunday before making its way down the east coast of the North Island, cut off entire towns, washed away farms, bridges and livestock, and inundated homes, stranding people on rooftops.

Communication and access to a number of areas remains difficult and surveillance flights are being undertaken to survey the damage and identify those who may be isolated.

The New Zealand Police on Thursday said they were investigating the death of a person in Gisborne, who was believed to have been caught in flood waters.

Four other deaths have already been confirmed and police have grave concerns for several other missing people.

Hipkins said the inability for people to get in touch with family and friends was a real issue and the government was working on immediately increasing connectivity.

Parts of New Zealand's North Island, where about 75 per cent of the country's 5 million residents live, are enduring their second major storm in as many weeks. Record rains last month triggered flash floods in Auckland and four people lost lives then.

Authorities estimate more than 9,000 people have been displaced so far, with around 3,000 housed in temporary shelters. Analysts and economists say it is too early to estimate the cost of the rebuild but it will likely be billions of dollars.

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