2nd Lead-Writethru: Coastal areas evacuated as Cyclone Pam batters New Zealand

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The New Zealand mainland started to count the cost of Tropical Cyclone Pam Monday as the storm began moving southeastwards out to sea.

However, the Chatham Islands, a small group of islands about 750 km east of the South Island and home to about 600 people, is still under a state of emergency with Pam expected to hit about midday Tuesday.

Chatham Islands Mayor Alfred Preece said in a statement from the Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management that the reason for the declaration was the imminent arrival of Cyclone Pam combined with rural fires blazing on the islands.

The declaration was needed to protect public safety and coordinate the emergency response.

The Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management said in a statement the storm could yet intensify slightly and a warning was now in place for severe gales, heavy rain and heavy swells for the Chatham Islands.

The storm had caused only minor damage in the upper North Island mainland, but the eastern Gisborne and Hawkes Bay areas were forecast to see continued severe weather until Wednesday, it said.

More than 150 mm of rain had fallen in the worst-hit Gisborne district in the 24 hours to 2 p.m. Monday, with one area recording more that 200 mm, and wind gusts were reaching up to 145 km per hour.

Schools in the Gisborne district were closed Monday and power was out in many areas.

The New Zealand Army was on standby to help in at least two areas in Gisborne.

More than 100 people had been evacuated as a precaution against inundation by the sea, flooding and slips, Gisborne Civil Defense Emergency Management controller Peter Higgs said in a statement.

Waves of up to 9 meters were expected in parts of the region because of the high winds and swells, but these were expected to reduce to about 3 to 4 meters by midday Tuesday.

Civil Defense staff were considering further evacuations from low-lying areas.

"We have reports coming in of horizontal rain and a fierce sea rising rapidly," said Higgs.

Police Gisborne area commander Sam Aberahama said in a statement that police had reports of waves of 5 to 6 meters in one area and residents had "never seen anything like it before." Endi

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