WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand police said they have 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 had set out Tuesday morning on a trip to the Abbey Caves in Whangārei as part of an outdoor education class, authorities said. The others made it out safely.
The death has raised questions about why school officials chose to go ahead with the trip even after forecasters had warned that heavy rain was approaching.
The district council website cautions people to “check weather forecast as caves can be prone to flash flooding.” The site says the cave system features dramatic limestone outcrops, sink holes and three significant caves.
“We acknowledge this event has been very distressing for the school and wider community, and that there are a number of questions the public will have,” Police Superintendent Tony Hill said in a statement. “At the moment, police’s focus is on supporting those affected.”
Hill said the body was recovered late Tuesday.
Whangārei Boys’ High School Principal Karen Gilbert-Smith wrote on Facebook that the event was “hugely upsetting” for all those involved.
“In time we will seek to understand how this situation occurred, but for now I ask that we stay united as a WBHS community and provide support where required,” the principal wrote.
Further south, the heavy rainfall and flooding Tuesday prompted authorities in Auckland to declare a state of emergency. The declaration remained in place Wednesday morning as the weather eased.
Fire and emergency crews said they responded to more than 200 calls on Tuesday, most of them in Auckland. Many were for floodwaters entering buildings, but they had also responded to landslides, falling trees and trapped cars. Some train and bus services were canceled, and authorities urged people to avoid unnecessary travel.
Severe weather has plagued the North Island this year. In January, four people were killed when floodwaters 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 he’d yet to find out all the details on what had happened to the student.
“I do want to express my deep concern there and my absolute support for the school community,” Hipkins said.