New Zealand pledges $720 million for cyclone and flood recovery

FILE PHOTO: Chris Hipkins speaks outside New Zealand's parliament in Wellington

(Reuters) - The New Zealand government said on Sunday it was allocating NZ$1.1 billion ($720 million) to help communities recover from a cyclone and floods that lashed the country this year.

The funds from the 2023 budget are to cover "basics" of rebuilding roads, rail and schools, as well as flood protection, it said in a statement.

Cyclone Gabrielle devastated parts of the North Island in February, killing 11, after flash floods prompted by record-breaking rainfall hit the country's biggest city, Auckland, in January.

"At Budget 2023, the Government is investing $941 million total operating and $195 million capital in the next stage of the recovery," the statement said.

The government has estimated the cost of the disasters at up to NZ$14.5 billion, the country's costliest disaster after the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, which severely damaged the city of Christchurch.

"The recovery package responds to the immediate recovery needs of today and invests in greater resilience for tomorrow,” said Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

The spending "will get roads, rail and schools back to where they were before the extreme weather hit this year so communities can get back to normal as soon as possible," he said in the statement.

Despite the natural disasters, the government has said it will not introduce any major new taxes to fund recovery in this year’s budget, to be delivered on Thursday, after pressure from the main opposition party, the centre-right National Party.

In addition to recovery, the funding is meant for child mental health support in the hard-hit Hawkes Bay and Tairawhiti regions, jobs training and flood protection, the government said.

Gabrielle, which hit the North Island's northernmost region and tracked down the east coast, caused widespread destruction.

Insurance companies in March reported receiving 40,000 claims worth around NZ$890 million for damage from the cyclone.

($1 = 1.5763 New Zealand dollars)

(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by William Mallard)