Saturday, February 13

Preparing for a cyclone in Rarotonga

The cyclone season in the southwest Pacific runs from November to April and this year the forecast was for ‘normal’ activity. This means about nine cyclones per season.
The Cook Islands escaped any of them until the end of January when Nisha formed near American Samoa and headed towards the southern Cooks. On Rarotonga boats were taken out of the water, shops and businesses boarded up their windows and householders tied down roofs but the cyclone was downgraded before it reached us.
A few days later Oli formed northwest of Fiji and headed towards the northern Cooks. Some minor damage was caused by heavy rain, high seas and strong winds but Oli gained in strength then tracked to Tahiti and the islands of French Polynesia. Oli caused major damage in some islands, thousands were evacuated from low lying land and one person was killed.
Cyclone Pat developed in the northern Cooks around 9 February and moved towards the southern group.
It hit Aitutaki in the early hours of Thursday (11 Feb) and did severe damage. Nobody was killed or seriously injured but many houses lost their roofs, some were completely demolished, power poles and a communications tower were felled cutting electricity and phones. Most houses in the Cook Islands have tin roofs (well, they’re actually made from sheets of corrugated steel). Even if they’re tied down a strong blast of wind can rip sheets off and send them flying through the air to cause more damage. Many trees were blown down and crops flattened.
Very few if any people will be insured. Cyclone insurance is prohibitively expensive.
Cook Islands News sent reporter Matariki Wilson to the island and her reports make sad reading. They should be on the Cook Islands News website when it is updated on Wednesday (17 Feb).
Power and water have been restored, the airstrip is open but Aitutaki now needs skilled workmen and building supplies.
Once again Rarotonga was lucky. Cyclone Pat seemed to be heading directly for us but it simply faded away and we felt no more than a few showers and choppy seas.
The video is of some of the preparations around the harbour and town in Avarua.
The music is a Martin, a drum dance probably telling the story of Cyclone Martin which hit Manihiki in November 1997. It is the worst natural disaster to strike the Cooks in recent memory. Nineteen people died, many were injured, housing was flattened, coral roads washed-out, and most of the equipment relating to the lagoon pearl-farming industry was destroyed. The damage was caused by wave surge as well as wind.
People in the South Pacific take cyclones seriously.