New Zealand police said they found the body of a high school student in a cave after a school group got into trouble when floodwaters hit.
A group of 15 students and two adults set out Tuesday morning on a trip to Abbey Caves in Whangārei as part of an outdoor education class, authorities said. The others made it out safely.
The death raised questions about why school officials chose to go ahead with the trip, even after forecasters warned that heavy rain was coming.
The district council website warns people to «check the weather forecast as the caves may be prone to flash flooding.» The site says the cave system features impressive limestone outcrops, sinkholes, and three major caves.
“We recognize that this event has been very distressing for the school and the community at large, and that there are a number of questions the public will have,” Police Superintendent Tony Hill said in a statement. «At the moment, the focus of the police is to support those affected.» Hill said the body was recovered Tuesday night.
Whangārei Boys’ High School Principal Karen Gilbert-Smith wrote on Facebook that the event was «hugely upsetting» to everyone involved.
“Over time we will seek to understand how this situation occurred, but for now I ask that we stick together as a WBHS community and provide support where needed,” the principal wrote.
Further south, heavy rain and flooding on Tuesday prompted Auckland authorities to declare a state of emergency. The declaration remained in effect Wednesday morning as the weather improved.
Fire and emergency teams said they responded to more than 200 calls on Tuesday, most of them in Auckland. Many were from flooding entering buildings, but they also responded to mudslides, falling trees, and trapped cars. Some train and bus services were cancelled, and authorities urged people to avoid unnecessary travel.
Severe weather has plagued the North Island this year. In January, four people died when floods hit Auckland. In February, 11 people died when Cyclone Gabrielle hit.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said it was a difficult time for the region.
He said Tuesday that he had not yet uncovered all the details about what had happened to the student.
“I want to express my deep concern there and my full support for the school community,” Hipkins said.