20231302 auckland
Passengers wait in departure lounges at Auckland Airport after flights were canceled and passengers stranded. Image Credit: AFP

Wellington: Tens of thousands of homes in New Zealand were without power Monday and hundreds of flights have been cancelled as a tropical storm lashes the north of the country.

A state of emergency has been declared in five separate regions in the North Island, covering almost one-third of New Zealand's entire population of 5.1 million.

Although the storm was downgraded as it approached on Sunday, it has already toppled trees, damaged roads and downed power lines.

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New Zealand's Wellington-based prime minister Chris Hipkins was among thousands stuck in the northern city of Auckland after the wild weather grounded flights.

"Things will get worse before they get better," Hipkins told New Zealanders in a press conference Monday, calling for them to "be prepared, stay inside if you can".

He said the government had considered declaring a national state of emergency for only the third time in the country's history - but it wasn't yet necessary.

The government announced an aid package of $7.25 million to help recovery efforts.

Police said one person was missing aboard a boat, which issued a distress call early Monday near Great Barrier Island, north of Auckland.

Winds of up to 140 kilometres (87 miles) per hour battered the Northland region, while Auckland's harbour bridge was rocked by gusts of 110 kph.

Emergency management minister Kieran McAnulty said Monday would be a difficult day due to the "highly dangerous" combination of high winds and heavy rain

Some 58,000 people, mostly in the north of New Zealand, were without power on Monday afternoon.

McAnulty said it was "unsafe" to try and repair the network while the dangerous weather continued.

Auckland, New Zealand's largest city and home to 1.6 million people, is still recovering after flash floods in late January forced thousands from their homes and resulted in four deaths.

"Many people haven't been able to catch a break," Hipkins said.

"The need in the community is significant. The effects of the weather events have compounded that."

The weather has created chaos on New Zealand's travel network with scheduled flights, trains and buses grinding to a halt.

National carrier Air New Zealand said they had so far cancelled 509 flights but normal services were expected to resume Tuesday.

The airline said the travel plans of some 10,000 international customers had been disrupted.