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By Lucy Craymer

New Zealand cyclone missing now in single digits in Hawke's Bay -search and rescue

FILE PHOTO: A view of flood damage in the the aftermath of cyclone Gabrielle in HawkeÕs Bay, New Zealand, in this picture released on February 15, 2023. New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS

The number of people missing in New Zealand's Hawke's Bay following Cyclone Gabrielle is now in single figures, search and rescue officials said on Thursday, 10 days after the worst storm to hit the country in decades.

Gabrielle killed at least 11 people and caused widespread damage across the North Island, hitting the farming, wine and fruit region of Hawke's Bay on the east coast particularly hard.

Hawke's Bay Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team leader Ken Cooper told TVNZ's Breakfast show that search and rescue conditions were arduous.

"It's something that I've never seen before, very challenging for our search crews and the community, however it's the responsibility of our crews and we'll carry out those searches to the best of our ability," Cooper said.

As of Thursday morning, "we are down to single figures" in terms of the numbers of people still unaccounted for in Hawke's Bay, he said.

USAR teams together with police and dog units were searching several remote communities on Thursday, Cooper said.

New Zealand Police said on Thursday afternoon there were 56 people across the country who had been reported as unable to be contacted, down from 152 earlier in the day, and more than 5,000 at the peak, as communications were gradually restored.

Those remaining are from the hard hit Hawke's Bay and Tairawhiti areas and include people who do not engage with the authorities for a variety of reasons, police said.

(Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Tom Hogue)

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