Insurers say the devastating floods in Auckland were the “biggest weather event” in New Zealand’s history as rainfall subsided after days of downpours and began a cleansing of the city.

Friday was the wettest day on record in New Zealand’s largest city, with heavy rain causing flooding that swept through streets and highways, killing four people. Schools and businesses closed as buildings and roads were devastated by the deluge. Auckland International Airport has been temporarily closed, stranding thousands of travelers abroad.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told reporters in auckland on Wednesday that the deluge would be the “largest non-seismic event” in insurance terms that the country has ever recorded. He still had no estimates of the likely cost of the damage.

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His comments came as the rain eased in the city of 1.6 million people, though fresh downpours caused more damage overnight, and attention turned to assessing the scale of the chaos.

At least 20,000 claims have already been filed, a New Zealand Insurance Council spokesman told The Guardian, and the numbers are expected to keep rising for weeks.

As the water receded, evidence of a sodden and wrecked city emerged: Officials posted red signs on 138 buildings, meaning entry is prohibited without council consent, while yellow signs restrict the use of another 542 Inspections of the structures must be completed by the end of the week.

A large landslide caused by flooding on the cliffs below Parnell in Auckland has made houses unsafe
A large landslide caused by flooding on the cliffs below Parnell in Auckland has made houses unsafe Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Landslides and sinkholes still threaten homes. Three people were taken to hospital on Wednesday afternoon, two of them seriously injured, after a house in Orua Bay, a rural township in Auckland, collapsed against a beach bench, trapping one person inside.

More than 600 flood-damaged cars have been removed from the city’s roads, said Rachel Kelleher, Auckland’s deputy controller for emergency management. Across town, downed trees, debris and mud litter streets where residents waded through chest-deep water or paddled kayaks to safety last Friday.

Schools and early learning centers, which were closed this week by an order from the Ministry of Education, will be able to open on Thursday if they wish.

Parts of the city’s highway system remain flooded and several rail lines are not working.

Auckland is still in a state of emergency, and officials will reconsider the designation on Friday. There are no longer weather alerts for the city.

Heavy rain warnings remain in effect for the Coromandel Peninsula east of Auckland, where state highways are closed and houses teeter on the brink of landslides. Alerts have been lifted for the Bay of Plenty and Northland.

Forecasters had warned of heavy rain in Auckland ahead of Friday’s deluge, but the terrifying speed and volume of the downpour, which brought 250mm of rain to parts of the north, south and west of the city, caught many by surprise.

A slow-moving subtropical low pressure system over Auckland unleashed torrential rain, which was intensified by humid La Niña conditions and a marine heatwave that had already brought an unusually hot and humid summer to New Zealand.

The city’s mayor, Wayne Brown, drew criticism for what critics said was poor communication and slow response time from his office as the rain intensified. brown was revealed in leaked WhatsApp group chat messages regretting canceling a tennis match the next day to “deal with the media drongos”.

Brown said Monday that he had done nothing wrong, but would launch an independent review of the flood response. Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s prime minister, on Tuesday announced a new minister for Auckland’s role in his cabinet reshuffle.

As cleanup begins, the disaster raises alarm about the mounting cost of the climate crisis for New Zealand, which in 2022 it set new records for claims related to extreme weather.

Economists also warned that the floods could contribute to inflationary pressures for the country through short-term price spikes for fresh produce, rentals, transportation and construction. The New Zealand Herald reported.

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