Schools in Aitutaki are aiming to at least be partially up and running again by next Monday.
Education secretary Sharyn Paio says currently director of operations Ina Herrmann and guidance counselor Sarah Milne are in Aitutaki working with principals and teachers, helping support their efforts to get schools operational again.
The SDA School has been operating since Monday from the principal’s home and a shed after the school in Ureia was almost completely devastated by Cyclone Pat last week.
“They are all in good spirits and we have been working with the United Nations to provide them with basic resources which we hope to have dispatched to them as soon as possible,” says Paio.
Yesterday director of finance and planning Anthony Turua and physical education and health advisor Katie Rogers returned to visit Aitutaki to complete a resource inventory to be able to advise parties wanting to assist with such items as desks, chairs, blackboards, minor equipment, and stationery.
“We will then develop a medium and long term plan for the future. Our priority right now is to ensure the safety of the children and staff – both physical and psychological and try and regain as much normality as possible,” says Paio.
She says she was informed yesterday by Herrmann that attempts are being made to clear debris at schools so they can start up next week.
“The NZ Defence Force as been helping, repairing roofing, and chopping trees. Ina says they have been tremendous. They (through NZAID) have offered to do the immediate work required on the schools to get them operational and we are extremely grateful to them for that.”
New roofing iron for at least one school in Aitutaki has reportedly been ordered from Cook Islands Steel by the Cook Islands Investment Corporation as rebuilding work continues with the support of NZAID.
Paio says considerable support will be required and the ministry will endeavour to do all it can to retain students and their families on Aitutaki and ensure that once again the children will have the chance to get a first class education.
Clare Shave of New Zealand Red Cross arrived yesterday to help Cook Islands Red Cross with administrative and logistical issues surrounding the Aitutaki relief effort.
She is conducting on-the-job training with local staff and will be here until Monday.
Two volunteers – one from Atiu and one from Mitiaro – are also teaming up with Red Cross to re-build Aitutaki. They will be joining Cook Islands Red Cross workers and an Australia Red Cross water sanitation expert in Aitutaki within the next couple of days.
Red Cross secretary general Niki Rattle said that the outpouring of help and support from Cook Islands and overseas communities has been overwhelming.
“It’s been a wonderful multi-sector approach with everybody collaborating,” she said. “There a lot of help out there – people are really willing to support in any way they can.” - RR
The Rarotonga-based Mangaia community will raise funds through a BBQ and its regular Housie day this week to help the Aitutaki cyclone relief efforts.
On Saturday the community will be selling plates of BBQ food, desserts, drinks and more from the Tupapa Centre all day from 9am. Profits from the community’s regular weekend Housie session from 1pm onwards will also go towards the total funds to be handed over to the Aitutaki Cyclone Appeal.
Community president Papatua Papatua says they are not only fundraising for Aitutaki because they have relatives there, but because they feel the need to contribute to the cause in whatever way they can.
“We felt it was important at this time of need for the people of Aitutaki,” he says.
The community is hoping that one of their most high profile members, prime minister Jim Marurai, will support the fundraiser along with the general public. Papatua says the people in Mangaia are also hoping to raise funds there to give to the Aitutaki Cyclone Appeal as well.
The Mangaia community in Rarotonga is being asked to contribute to the BBQ by bringing meat and salads to the Tupapa Centre by 9am on Saturday. Plates of food will be selling for around $8.
For more information on how you can help Mangaia’s efforts to raise funds for Aitutaki, call Papatua on 74329. - HG
Sales from today’s All U Can Eat pizza buffet at High Tide will be donated to the Aitutaki cyclone relief effort.
The lunch buffet will run from 11am until 2.30pm and the dinner buffet will last from 6pm until 9pm.
For $20 per person and $12 for kids under 12, buffet-goers can enjoy pizzas, garlic bread and a pasta and salad bar.
Owner Brett Baudinet said that profits will be sent directly to Aitutaki, where his business partner Tui Tuakeu is currently doing electrical work.
He said that Tuakeu will speak with Aitutaki officials and locals to determine how best to distribute the funds.
“We’re trying to give back to the community, to our sister island, as best we can.” - RR
This Aitutaki public information bulletin was approved for release yesterday by mayor Tai Herman and Emergencyh Management Cook Islands:
The New Zealand Defence Force has deployed a 12-member engineering detachment to Aitutaki and they have been tasked to assist the Aitutaki Emergency Operations Centre and island administration with immediate response and relief needs
The Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules C130 will be doing relief flights with additional supplies for government as well as Red Cross.
Drinking water is now available at the Red Cross at Arutanga. Please bring your CLEAN containers.
Red Cross is today distributing the tarpaulins and tents that arrived yesterday. Tarps are being distributed island wide and the tents have started at Vaipai and Tautu and will continue from there.
The NZDF is helping the Red Cross with tent installation.
Members of public are asked to assist the Red Cross and NZDF with this very essential task. Please contact the Red Cross or the Aitutaki EOC to register as a volunteer.
Water is being restored to about 90% of the island presently. However, this water is not fit for drinking.
Members of the public are asked to BOIL all water to be used for drinking purposes.
A water treatment plant supplied by Red Cross Australia has arrived in Aitutaki today. Fresh potable water is expected to be available within the next 24hrs.
Members of the public are asked to contact the Aitutaki EOC go personally with your containers to the Red Cross Base at the Court House, Arutanga, regarding drinking water supply and refilling.
Electricity is being restored along the main grid as a priority.
NZDF is assisting with the repairs to electrical problems at the hospital and other critical facilities.
There are additional electricians from Raro here to assist Aitutaki Power with home connections.
Members of public are asked NOT to touch any wires lying around as these may be live.
Members of public are asked to have an electrician verify their homes before switching on the power as this may cause an electrical fire if not done properly.
Communities have undertaken clean-up actions around their properties and villages.
We commend and support the community with the excellent way they have responded to this disaster.
Members of the community are asked to stack roofing iron that has been blown off so that Council can collect this for proper disposal.
An Agency Coordination Meeting was to be held at the Aitutaki Island Administration building at 7pm last night (Wednesday).
Members of public are encouraged to pass information through the Aitutaki EOC located at the Aitutaki Island Administration. The contact numbers are: 31015, 31007, 31700.
Members of public are discouraged from burning rubbish as the environment is very dry and there is a high possibility of fire hazard.
Air New Zealand and Air Rarotonga are extending the special fares from New Zealand to Aitutaki for those who want to be with family or assist in the cyclone relief effort on the island.
The short-life economy class discount fares from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to Aitutaki were launched last Friday for an initial two-week period.
Air New Zealand advised of the extension of the special fares yesterday – from Auckland to Aitutaki the fare is $429 (or $419 online) plus airport and government costs of $30 and from Wellington or Christchurch to Aitutaki it will cost $479 per person plus the $30 costs.
The fares, if purchased by February 25, will allow travel to be commenced and completed between now and March 15.
The fares are a discount on the lead-in through to Aitutaki and have much higher availability than normal specials as they are able to be booked all the way up to W class.
The specials are not being advertised so as to deter people not involved in the cyclone relief cause from taking advantage of them.
Both Air NZ and Air Raro are doing what they can to help Aitutaki. Air NZ is already taking gear, cargo and tradesmen from NZ to the island and Air Raro is likewise helping to get supplies to the island.
Government-owned Bank of the Cook Islands has launched a relief and rebuild package of financial support for Aitutaki.
Relief is offered in the form of a loan repayment ‘holiday’ of up to four months on principal and interest repayments to existing Aitutaki customers.
This is in acknowledgement of the extent of devastation, the community wide impact on households and businesses, and length of time it could take to rebuild after Cyclone Pat.
Loan interest rates will also be discounted by 0.5 percent for 12 months on top-up loans to existing loans or where new loans are needed.
Further general assistance will be extended including a waiver of term deposit breakage costs for those who need access to their deposits.
As families look to send money to help relatives in Aitutaki, the bank will also waive money transfer fees for money sent from Rarotonga or any other island to Aitutaki.
The bank is providing a fee-free transactional account for the Aitutaki community based in Rarotonga for the easy collection of fundraising monies and distribution to the island.
“As the “people’s bank” we hope this direct assistance will go some way to lifting the spirits of our families in Aitutaki,” said BCI yesterday.
In the meantime, BCI says its board of directors, management and staff recognise that their ‘brothers and sisters’ in Aitutaki now face an enormous challenge as they rebuild their livelihoods in the wake of the devastation caused by Cyclone Pat. BCI says its rebuild package is extended to encourage the Aitutaki community to rebuild and face the challenge.
“Despite forewarning, no one could have predicted the level of damage sustained in Aitutaki, and no one can ever be fully prepared for any natural disaster.
Our thoughts are with everyone in the Aitutaki community affected by the cyclone.
BCI customers and staff have been affected and Rarotonga based staff have been in full support mode and on the ground since Friday last week to ensure our customers had access to cash as needed and most especially someone to talk to, to assure them of our support in what ever way we can,” said BCI managing director Vaine Nooana-Arioka.
BCI special projects administrator Tangata Tou has been on the island of Aitutaki since the weekend, visiting BCI customers, conducting assessments and preparing for the relief assistance package.
BCI reminds customers that normal loan approval procedures still apply and other features of the package can be explained in further detail by any BCI loans officer.
The bank is the second to announce a relief package – ANZ Bank’s new concessions for Aitutaki customers were launched on Monday.
ANZ will provide such concessions, on a case by case basis, as waiving fees for restructuring business loans or new lending, and interest-only repayments for business and personal loans for up to three months.
Finance minister Wilkie Rasmussen stated this week that government is looking at how it can encourage the trading banks to provide concessions for Aitutaki customers during the island’s recovery from the impacts of the cyclone. - HG
Air Raro plays key role
When Cyclone Pat threatened the Southern Cook Islands last Wednesday, Air Rarotonga dispatched two aircraft carrying emergency personnel to be sheltered in Mauke in case the storm moved southward over Rarotonga.
By 1pm in the afternoon, as soon as the cyclonic winds began to abate on Aitutaki, the aircraft landed with police and other personnel to launch a critical emergency response. As the cyclone moved to the west of Rarotonga, the aircraft began evacuating visitors and others who needed urgent transport to Rarotonga.
By mid afternoon another flight departed from Rarotonga carrying more police and Emergency Centre personnel to Aitutaki.
Between Wednesday afternoon and Saturday night, a total of 330 people had been evacuated and 350 emergency workers and volunteers had been airlifted into Aitutaki along with seven tonnes of urgent cargo including generators, chainsaws, water pumps, tarpaulins and other essential equipment.
Air Rarotonga is often first to arrive in these emergency situations because of its daily outer-island operations and proximity, said managing director Ewan Smith.
“That was the case with Cyclone Martin and now Cyclone Pat. We were able to get in quickly moving essential personnel and supplies to tide things over until a Hercules could arrive with the heavy equipment and specialists,” he said.
In addition to dealing with the public emergency, the airline’s Aitutaki-based staff had to contend with their own badly damaged homes and distressed families. Rarotonga staff have been travelling to Aitutaki each day to handle ground operations while the company assists Aitutaki staff in repairing their homes.
“We need to help our local Aitutaki staff and their families get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Smith said.
He said that the response from local authorities and NGOs to Cyclone Pat has been positive.
“In hindsight there are always some things that might have been done differently or better but on the whole the emergency response to Cyclone Pat has been good,” he said. “In particular the organisation and rapid response of Cook Islands Red Cross has been a standout. There is a growing pool of skilled local knowledge and logistical ability to deal with emergency situations, and it showed this time. There are a lot of dedicated local people out there in Aitutaki doing a lot of good work.”
The airline is looking at ways to assist the Aitutaki community in the longer-term re-building phase.
“One of the first things we will do is support Aitutaki tourism operators in their efforts to get the flow of visitors back up and their businesses running smoothly,” Smith said.
Last Monday saw the first group of day trippers once again enjoying Aitutaki’s pristine lagoon.
Austrian guests pick up tools
Before Cyclone Pat visited us, we had two guests staying at Gina’s Garden Lodges – Bernhard and Christa Dziuba, a couple from Austria.
They stayed through the cyclone and the days after without a complaint about the lack of electricity, or the environmental damage.
They took it all in their stride as a unique and educational experience – an opportunity to see a part of island life that few have witnessed.
They had a wonderful lagoon tour with Te King, and damaged as we are, still enjoyed exploring the island on their motorbike.
This lovely couple donned their working clothes, took up bush knives and chainsaw (a Stihl made in Austria!) and helped us clean up our garden.
I wish we could have some more guests like these!
In fact, over the years we have had quite a few.
It shows that we do have a great attraction for eco-tourists and adventurous interactive travellers.
They leave tomorrow with happy memories of their visit to our beautiful island, and I’m sure will return one day.
Cheers and Happy Chainsawing. – DJ (Des) Clarke, Gina’s Aitutaki
Visit us at Gina’s Garden Lodges in Aitutaki.
Cruise liner departure not due to Cyclone Pat
Last Tuesday’s quick departure of the luxury yacht style cruise liner Seabourn Odyssey was reportedly unrelated to cyclone Pat which hit Aitutaki that night.
Destination Management Cook Islands (DMCK) cruise ship events coordinator Marlene Cuthers says the ship, the third to visit Rarotonga this year, did not send its passengers ashore citing the official reason as bad sea swell conditions.
Cuthers says the ship captains are generally aware of bad weather situations such as cyclones and steer clear of it so as not to endanger passengers.
But this can all depend on what kind of threat is posed. At the end of the day the captain makes the call on shore visits and relays that to ground agents.
Bad sea swells are causing more and more ships to bypass Rarotonga as a destination each year and there are hopes that a proposed alternative port on the western side of the island may solve the problem.
Rarotonga would have been among the first Pacific Islands to be visited by the brand new five-star liner Seabourn Odyssey.
By the end of last week the ship and its 500 passengers had arrived in Auckland. After sailing the Caribbean last year, the Odyssey is now on its first world cruise, a 108-day voyage that departed last month from the US and plans to visit 42 ports across 26 countries – completing the adventure in Greece.
There are at least three local cruise ship agents in the Cooks who are all expecting more liners to visit this year.
DMCK is next expecting to host French cruise ship Princess Danae due to visit Rarotonga for the first time on March 4.
Hercules airlifts heavy machinery
The Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules returned twice to Aitutaki yesterday with more equipment to help the island’s clean-up progress.
On board the first flight to the island were two small bobcat bulldozers – one from T&M Heather Contractors and the other provided by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning division.
Also on the first delivery flight to Aitutaki was the much awaited water filtration pump which is capable of purifying 5000 litres of water an hour.
More Red Cross supplies were also delivered to Aitutaki.
On the Hercules’ second flight to Aitutaki, it carried Red Cross blankets and food supplies plus a large donation of kumara from T&M Heather contractors.
Remaining Te Aponga Uira equipment for repairing the island’s power supply was also aboard the last Hercules flight.
The Hercules is expected to return to New Zealand as it is on standby to deliver emergency goods to the island of Tonga which was struck by Cyclone Rene yesterday.
The 12 army personnel on Aitutaki will remain on the island for the next 14 days and in seven days that team will reassess their need to be there.
The team is self sufficient and has enough food and water rations for seven days.
They are being housed at the Aitutaki Airport where the Disaster Emergency Management team is also stationed.
The team including electricians, plumbers, builders and labourers began work on the island yesterday with the main priority to help people with their electrical wiring and setting up temporary shelter.
Local MP stands by criticism
Aitutaki member of parliament Teina Bishop is standing his ground and defending his comments on what he believes was a slow response by government to the disaster on Aitutaki after it was struck by cyclone Pat on the night of Tuesday February 10.
“I’m not grandstanding! It’s my duty to speak out as a member of parliament for Aitutaki,” said Bishop yesterday.
Bishop is defending the comments he made on Radio New Zealand International on Monday at the speed of the response to the Aitutaki disaster.
“When we had our brief on Thursday afternoon in Aitutaki, Julie Affleck from the New Zealand High commission clearly told everyone there that they didn’t need a thorough report to request an emergency response from New Zealand,” said Bishop.
“The prime minister, cabinet ministers, the Aitutaki mayor and island council were at that meeting. Even the newspaper was there when Julie said that.”
“You don’t need a damn report to know that homes and people without roofs needed tarpaulins and shelter.”
“In fact, Charles Carlson told her he’d have the report on her desk before she returned to Rarotonga that day!”
Bishop said that government officials who visited the island last Thursday could have requested New Zealand assistance immediately.
“But it wasn’t until Saturday night when a formal request was made. So what did cabinet members fly over for?”
Bishop is even more disappointed to learn that Red Cross materials including tarpaulins and tents were sitting on Rarotonga for days before they finally reached the island.
“Why hasn’t government deployed the patrol boat (Te Kukupa) to bring over these materials?”
According to Bishop he was told that a letter he sent on behalf of the Aitutaki business community to the New Zealand High Commission on Friday February 12 requesting immediate relief to ensure the economy of Aitutaki survives the disaster – was the first formal request of help to New Zealand.
Aitutaki plants crops for the future
“The time to mourn is over – now is the time to rebuild and plant.”
These were the words of Aitutaki head agriculture officer Fred Charlie who is leading the crop planting project on Aitutaki.
Most of the food crops and fruits trees on Aitutaki were destroyed during cyclone Pat, however Charlie says that some root crops are still good and will feed the island for the next month or two.
Charlie said that they will begin planting new root crops as the current plots are used.
Vegetable seeds were sowed yesterday and in three weeks time will be ready to be planted into the soil.
Vegetables propagated yesterday were lettuce, cucumber and bok choy which Charlie says will be ready a month after planting.
Tomatoes, capsicums and cabbages will be ready three months after planting.
Charlie said that nine agriculture officers from Rarotonga will join the four on Aitutaki to help propagate new crops on the island.
Germinated seeds will be given to known growers on the island which will be shared with villagers when they are ready.
Charlie believed that it would a year until the island would see its first ripe banana and pawpaw as these crops were completely destroyed by the storm.
Growers on Rarotonga are asked to help supply taro shoots, maniota (arrowroot) and kumara cuttings to help with the island’s food crop planting.
Those who are able to donate these much needed cuttings and shoots are asked to deliver them to the Ministry of Agriculture in Arorangi for shipment to Aitutaki.
New appeal body to coordinate fundraising
A new group has formed to promote and coordinate fundraising efforts for cyclone recovery on Aitutaki.
At Monday night’s meeting, the Aitutaki community on Rarotonga elected a committee to oversee and consolidate all cyclone fundraising efforts.
Florence Syme-Buchanan, secretary for the cyclone relief committee, said that the committee is advocating a coordinated approach to fundraising so as to properly account for all donated monies.
“The accountability issue is really important and we want to get it out to the general public that this is the committee coordinating all fundraising activities,” she said.
“We want to be sure that all funds are accounted for, everything’s done transparently and people are given receipts for the monies they donate.”
Committee chairman George George added that anyone is welcome to raise funds for the Aitutaki cause but “it must be done all above-board and individuals or organisations wanting to raise funds should liaise with the committee. This is the official body set up to oversee that all money received is accounted for and is used for what is intended – to help the people of Aitutaki.”
George, Syme-Buchanan, vice chairman Vaitoti Tupa and treasurer Nga Takaiti intend to set up a cyclone appeal office at the Aitutaki hostel in Avarua today, and will use it as a base from which to field calls and emails, handle accounts and process donations.
The committee is working closely with communities of Aitutakians overseas and is maintaining communication lines with groups in New Zealand, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
Syme-Buchanan said she has made a formal request to minister of foreign affairs Robert Wigmore to use an office on Symonds Street in Auckland, the High Commissioner’s office in Wellington and the Cook Islands Centre in Mangere as fundraising centres where overseas Aitutakians can deliver gifts and goods.
The relief committee has also established a Westpac account so as to consolidate donations from local and overseas donors and to “make sure funds go to the right place,” George said. If you’d like to make a donation, the name of the account is Aitutaki Cyclone Appeal, the number is #2000256327 and the swift code is WPACCKCR.
Syme-Buchanan said that the committee will host follow-up programmes to satisfy donors. They have also pledged to work with the media to ensure that financial transactions are honest, public and transparent.
Aside from coordinating donations and managing relief organisations throughout the region, the committee is busy planning a number of fundraising events.
All Rarotonga villages will meet individually today to discuss Friday’s food stall in Avarua, and will come together on Thursday to synchronise their efforts.
All three commercial radio stations will run radiothons on Friday. Callers can contact Cook Islands Radio on 20100, Matariki FM on 25999 or 88FM on 22888.
The committee is also planning an open-air concert at Punanga Nui Marketplace this Saturday from 9 am until 12 pm, featuring Aitutakian dancers, drummers and singers. It has plans to run another church service on Sunday alongside Bishop Tutai Pere.
The committee plans to combine all the funds they raise and to use them to send “nonperishables, building materials and tradespeople” directly to Aitutaki, Syme-Buchanan said.
“We’re asking our Aitutaki community out there to help us,” George said. “Let’s work as a team. I think that’s the only way we’re going to go forward.”
To contact the cyclone relief committee, ring the Aitutaki hostel on 29910 or email email@example.com
Govt asked to defer VAT from Aitutaki
Aitutaki businesses have asked for temporary deferment of value added tax (VAT) payments. Finance minister Wilkie Rasmussen says government is now looking into the real value and benefits of this proposal.
Aitutaki’s Arutanga/Reureu/Nikaupara MP Teina Bishop, on behalf of the island’s business community, asked that government delay this month’s VAT payment – deferring the payment to a later date or to be paid over time.
On Monday Bishop wrote to Rasmussen suggesting that government could approve the request and allow much needed funds to stay on the island.
The Aitutaki business community reportedly believes the deferred payment would help them with immediate relief and reconstruction.
Rasmussen confirmed he had talked to Bishop over the phone about the proposal but had told him he would have to consult with the right people at the ministry of finance and Crown Law office on its benefits and whether it is possible.
He says government intends to provide a financial assistance package to encourage the recovery of the island’s business community, and extensions of due dates for VAT payments could be part of it.
Government is already encouraging banks to provide grace periods for loan and mortgage repayments for the people of Aitutaki.
ANZ Bank is leading the way by waiving several fees relating to loans and term deposit withdrawals.
“I support the idea of a package of financial or financially related assistance to the business people of Aitutaki to help them thorough this time of difficulty. However, I am advised that the minister of finance does have unilateral authority to grant delay or waive VAT payments.
“But, I understand that it is possible for the collector of revenue to waive penalties related to non-payment of VAT but this does not mean people are encouraged to deliberately not pay this month’s VAT, although circumstances of hardship could be factored into the consideration,” says the minister.
Rasmussen raised the issue with cabinet yesterday as it continues to explore ways to assist Aitutaki’s recovery following cyclone Pat. The minister says the facts and figures relating to the proposed VAT deferment would likely be known by today.
New cyclone predicted
Another tropical cyclone is predicted this week. The regional Nadi Weather Office predicts that a new tropical cyclone will form later this week.
Director Rajendra Prasad said yesterday that weather conditions between Samoa and the Northern Cook Islands are such that a tropical cyclone is expected to form by Friday and move closer to Fiji.
The weathergram.blogspot.com reported that the South Pacific Convergence Zone remains very active along 5 to 10S across the South Pacific, especially between Tokelau and Northern Cooks.
“Computers are picking a further development in the area northeast of Samoa being born between Thursday February 18 and Tuesday February 23 (models are still differing on timing). “The next name on the cyclone list is Sarah. Current output indicates this system may move south sort of midway between Niue and Aitutaki/Rarotonga – however there is still plenty of time for it to take another path.”
Meanwhile, climate and weather organisations across the Pacific are still predicting near normal tropical cyclone activity across the southwest Pacific for the rest of the season through to April. On average, nine tropical cyclones occur in the region each cyclone season (Nov-Apr).
New Zealand’s National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has issued the tropical cyclone outlook on behalf of collaborating organisations from New Zealand, the United States, Fiji, Australia, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands.
The updated outlook for the second half of the season says that near normal tropical cyclone activity is likely for most countries in the southwest Pacific during the remainder of the cyclone season from February to April. Countries east of the date line, including Niue, Tonga, and the Southern Cook Islands are at higher risk than normal because of El Nio conditions. Parts of southwest French Polynesia (Society and Austral Islands) can be affected by tropical cyclones during El Nio, so these islands should also remain vigilant.
NIWA explained the outlook in more detail:
El Nio conditions currently exist in the region. Equatorial sea surface temperature anomalies are positive and the atmosphere has shown a classic low pressure anomaly over southern French Polynesia, with higher pressures over eastern Australia for most of summer. The expectation is that near normal tropical cyclone (TC) activity will occur for most countries in the southwest Pacific during the remainder of the season February – April. Communities should remain alert and prepared.
As previously forecast for this season, TC activity is expected to be near normal with 8–11 TCs expected over the November 2009 – April 2010 period for the southwest Pacific. On average, nine tropical cyclones occur each year for the southwest Pacific region. Southwest Pacific TCs are grouped into classes ranging from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most dangerous. For the present season, two or three storms were forecast to reach at least Category 3, and one storm was expected to reach at least Category 4, with mean wind speeds of at least 64 knots or 118 km/h.
Updated projections show an increased risk of tropical cyclones for the 2009–10 season exist to the east of the date line, particularly for the Southern Cook Islands. Increased risk east of the date line also exists for Niue and Tonga. To the west, there is also increased risk for the Solomon Islands. It should be noted that TCs can affect parts of southwest French Polynesia (Society and Austral Islands) during El Nio.
These islands should remain vigilant as El Nio continues to evolve with progression into austral autumn.
Though a moderate El Nio exists, the number of TCs entering a 550km radius of the New Zealand coast is expected to remain about normal. On average, every other year one TC affects New Zealand during the last half of the season.
Aitutaki bounces back for visitors
The Aitutaki Tourism Council yesterday issued a media release for worldwide distribution in an effort to preserve tourism and visitor interest following last week’s cyclone.
The release sent out by Mike Henry said that in the interest of helping visitors to Aitutaki make informed decisions on their travel to the island, the Tourism Council of Aitutaki will provide accurate, up-to- date information on the state of services and accommodation on the island over the next few weeks as the clean-up continues.
The full statement reads:
The following restaurants are open for business with full services as from today – Aitutaki Lagoon Resort, Boat Shed, Pacific Resort Rapae Bay and Tamanu Beach. Our tour companies are all operating although some boats had damage to their roofs all have started operations as of yesterday. Nane’s Tours and Safari Tours are operating although a few of the inland roads are still not cleared of trees. Full domestic air services with Air Rarotonga have been operating since Friday with increased flights being supplied as demand dictates.
Telecom Cook Islands have restored lines to most properties but internet and mobile phones are limited in their services. Some properties that are not yet re-connected to the electricity supply, there is limited internet access. A team of technicians from Rarotonga is on the island. They are progressively working to fully restore all communications systems.
Almost all accommodation is open although some have only opened some rooms. Almost all properties have been re-connected to the mains power supply and others are using emergency generators. For detailed information on individual properties, please refer to their websites or directly with the property.
Beaches and Aitutaki Lagoon
Lagoon cruises that operated yesterday reported that the lagoon is in great shape and received no damage other than some debris from shore. The beaches of One Foot, Honeymoon Island and Akaiami are in perfect condition and we will have images of these after tomorrow’s cruise.
Of the eight villages on Aitutaki, none escaped damage, many homes have been lost and most received some damage. There is a huge amount of tree and leaf debris that will take a few weeks to clean up. It will also take between two and four weeks for the foliage to begin its recovery but as is the case in the tropics, after just two months we will see a dramatic re-growth.
The people of Aitutaki are resilient and already have made good progress to returning their lives to normal but it will take much work and importantly it will need the support of our visitors from around the world.
Building codes to be invoked
Building codes will have to be adhered to when reconstruction of private homes begins on Aitutaki following tropical cyclone Pat.
“I think the lesson learnt is that if you are building your house, don’t take any shortcuts,” said minister Wilkie Rasmussen after visiting the island last week. “You have to build your house according to the codes and the standards. If it’s an old house, knock it down and build a new one.”
Rasmussen estimates that up to 90 percent of the buildings on Aitutaki suffered some form of damage during the cyclone.
Prime minister Jim Marurai noted that one of schools which had its roof replaced a few years ago, was not spared. However, Marurai said that he saw a reed roof at the Pacific Resort which appeared to be untouched.
In response to a question that there could have been some complacency by those living on Aitutaki towards the cyclone, Rasmussen said there may have been a lesson learnt.
“The warning system by the disaster management group has been pretty good and everybody knew that there was a cyclone coming, but they didn’t think that it was going to hit them that hard.”
Rasmussen said that money from the contingency fund would be sourced to assist with the cyclone response on Aitutaki.
“We have our means but we will be working in with our partners first to see what contributions they’ve got. We’ve already approved usage of our contingency fund to purchase immediate things like electrical cables and things like that.”
Rasmussen said that they are working closely with NZAid and will be holding further discussions as to the extra extent of their assistance.
After seeing the devastation on Aitutaki first hand, Marurai said one of his greatest fears is that those on the island might pack up and leave the country.
Power back on
Power is slowly being restored to homes on Aitutaki as substations are being fixed.
Aitutaki resident Maki Toko, who was manning the cyclone shelter yesterday, reported that a number of homes had electricity.
He said that Aitutaki Power Supply staff were working hard to fix sub stations across the island including the rebuilding of power poles and fixing of broken power lines.
The island had lost power during cyclone Pat which struck the island in the early hours of Wednesday.
Due to the loss of power, shops had to sell defrosted products at heavily discounted prices but families weren’t able to take full advantage of the discounts as they too had no power to run fridges and freezers to preserve food.
Toko also reported that with some of the substations fixed, the water pumps have been able to work again and had started reticulating water to homes in some parts of the island.
Toko sounded upbeat as he told Cook Islands News the good progress that was being made in restoring power and water to homes in Aitutaki.
Aitutaki MP Junior Maoate told government officials that with the return of power and water, the cleanup and rebuilding process on the island could be moved along quickly. - MW
Power and water top priority
Cabinet appeals for volunteers,
seedlings, tents and NZ Hercules
Some power in some pockets on Aitutaki has been restored over the past two days.
Prime minister Jim Marurai said yesterday that reinstating power is the immediate priority for the island, along with providing a reliable water supply and providing adequate shelter for the residents who have lost their homes.
Marurai said that equipment and materials have been ordered to help restore the power supply.
Te Aponga Uira has offered up to 200 concrete poles which will be shipped, along with cables and assorted materials, over to Aitutaki next week.
Money from the contingency fund will be used to order electrical materials from New Zealand.
On Thursday, government workers began using coconut logs as poles to hold up the power lines.
Infrastructure minister William Heather said one of the reasons to get power on quickly is to prevent food in fridges and freezers being spoilt. Cabinet believes that most households should have access to power by Wednesday.
Heather said they are looking for skilled local volunteers to help with aspects of the restoration work on the island. He said government is trying to work out the finer details for the volunteers in terms of transportation and accommodation.
Air Rarotonga has also allowed one of its aircraft to be used for freight.
Heather said at this point in time they anticipate they will need between 20 and 30 volunteers to carry out building, plumbing and electrical work.
Clearing of the road from the airport towards the town area also began on Thursday.
Heather said the island still needs equipment like chainsaws but the response to the call for machinery from the private sector to help with cleaning up was “awesome”.
Finance minister Wilkie Rasmussen said that the water supply appears to be okay for the time being but they advise residents to boil water.
Food and fuel stocks, said Rasmussen, are plentiful and should last until the next boat.
However, agriculture minister Robert Wigmore said he is worried that a lack of fruit, vegetables and root crops could be a problem soon.
All the banana, breadfruit and pawpaw crop, along with the island’s mangoes, have been destroyed.
Wigmore said that he has asked ministry staff on Rarotonga to make available seedlings which Aitutakians can plant in the next few weeks.
Cook Islands Red Cross is assisting with the distribution of 100 tarpaulins already on the island and waiting for 600 more which are on the way.
Rasmussen said he is hopeful that a Hercules aircraft will arrive in the next week and that a request to New Zealand for tents will be granted.
Cabinet will meet again this morning and Rasmussen said they will go over all aspects of the response to the disaster.
He said they were still waiting for an initial assessment of the cost of damage to buildings on the island.
With all the information available, Rasmussen said they will start putting together a request for assistance to the New Zealand government.
Agencies and countries that the Cooks have diplomatic relationships with, added Rasmussen, have also been alerted of the situation on Aitutaki.
- Moana Moeka’a
Local businesses are reaching out to cyclone victims, hosting fundraisers, shuttling work teams to Aitutaki and doing whatever they can to help.
Yesterday, CITC hosted a sausage sizzle at Foodland that raised $750 for the cyclone relief effort.
CITC donated bread, sausages, tomato sauce, and staff to do the cooking. Funds will go toward assembling a package of food and supplies to be transported to Aitutaki by the Red Cross next week.
Westpac, for its part, will send representatives from its management team to Aitutaki early next week to support local bank staff.
“We know our customers’ financial circumstances will be affected and we encourage customers that need assistance to contact their local Westpac branch or relationship manager as soon as possible to discuss how we can help,” general manager Rob Buick said.
“Our thoughts are with everybody affected by this tragedy.”
Red Cross takes the lead
Red Cross volunteers, led by Charlie Numanga, were out in numbers on Thursday meeting with households on Aitutaki to gauge their immediate needs.
Numanga told Cook Islands News that their main focus was to ensure that people had the basic needs of shelter, food and water.
Numanga said they were making sure that people who lost their homes or roofs to their homes had places to stay be it at community halls or bunking with neighbours.
“But some people feel more comfortable staying on their own property even though their homes are no longer standing,” said Numanga.
“So we need to make sure that these people get equipment such as tarpaulins or tents.”
He added that “there’s not much I can do for these people who’ve completely lost their homes but we can provide temporary shelter until the rebuilding phase kicks in”.
Red Cross volunteers were also making sure the people had cooking utensils and that all members of the household were accounted for.
While visiting families on the island, Numanga has had to motivate people to start rebuilding their homes by using old materials or those that they found lying around on their property.
Immediate emergency reports will give the authorities a better understanding of the urgent needs of the people plus it will also serve as a guideline for the rebuilding stage of the cyclone recovery process.
Families and businesses on Rarotonga can help the people of Aitutaki by sending over materials such as hammers, nails, saws, cooking utensils, tarpaulins, candles and dry foods to help the island recover from the devastation left by cyclone Pat.
$20,000 from Forum for Aitutaki
The ministry of foreign affairs and immigration has been busy co-ordinating requests for assistance to rebuild Aitutaki – from regional and international sources, according to secretary Mike Mitchell.
“We have been promised $20,000 from the Forum Secretariat immediately – which should defray some of the transport costs.
“We have also been encouraged to contact the World Bank regional office in Sydney, the Asian Development Bank regional office and the SOPAC office in Fiji.”
Mitchell said that there were other sources of funds still to be tapped.
“We are working with Aid Management, the Ministry of Finance and all those involved, to get Aitutaki back on its feet as soon as possible. I understand New Zealand and Australia are closely following the initial assessment.”
Tourism largely not affected by cyclone
Management at two of Aitutaki’s major resorts have reported no major fluctuations in bookings and said that the stream of tourists to the cyclone-ravaged island is fairly regular.
Pacific Resort Aitutaki and Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa are quickly bouncing back from the disaster with the assistance of local resort staff and Rarotonga support teams.
Thomas Koteka, general manager of Pacific Resort, said that the resort’s booking profile “hasn’t changed much and there have been no cancellations as such”.
He said that the resort is fully operational and although “it’s a little messy, and some rooms are worse than others, it’s all coming on line.”
Koteka said that as soon as Pat abandoned Aitutaki, teams of helpers and specialists from Rarotonga piled into airplanes on a mission to assist in any way possible.
Their first priority was to clear away fallen trees and bits of scrap metal, and their next task is to re-establish water systems and power lines. The final stage will involve re-developing the resort’s landscape, which suffered significant damage. Koteka said that the whole re-construction process shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks.
He said that the local staff played a major role in getting the resort back on its feet.
“The most amazing thing that’s happened is the staff’s response,” he said. “They came on to assist without pay, while they were dealing with their own problems at home.”
Pacific Resort housed and fed local staff, who worked around the clock to ensure that by Wednesday, guests were again sunbathing, dining out and going on fishing tours.
“We’re bouncing back really quickly,” he said. “We’ve just got to take it one step at a time.”
Koteka said that all rooms at Pacific Resort Aitutaki are full with either guests, local staff or support crews, but once they empty out they will be available to local families who are in the process of re-building their homes.
Also bouncing back is Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa, which suffered extensive damage in Wednesday night’s debacle.
Managing director Tata Crocombe said that a team of 20 tradesmen – plumbers, electricians and carpenters – flew to Aitutaki to assess the damage and make necessary repairs.
He said that support teams made rapid progress and the resort opened for business yesterday.
As the largest private-sector employer on the island, Crocombe said the resort has an obligation to be back in business so as to keep its staff employed and the economy functioning as usual.
Crocombe also said that local staff were key to the reconstruction effort.
“Our staff have lost homes but have been magnificent,” he said. “They’re coming back to work and working around the clock.”
Koteka said that he was impressed by the number of committed people who jumped on board the relief effort. He said that though the damage was extensive, “we’ll begin to see a transformation of the island within days.”
“This is the Pacific and this is what we’re all about,” he said. “We know there’s no time to sit around and think about what’s wrong – there’s only time to move forward.”
Cyclone damages sports facility
The facilities at the Vaipae sports ground (pictured) in Aitutaki sustained some structural damage but villagers say it was lucky not to have been completely destroyed. The tennis and netball courts were renovated in 2008 for the Manea Games which was hosted by Aitutaki. The Vaipae hall in the background has sustained major damage to its roof but a number of families from Vaipae, the worst hit village during the cyclone, are now sheltering in the hall after their own homes were flattened on Tuesday night.
Aitutaki league match cancelled
Today’s scheduled rugby league match between the Aitutaki Sharks/Warriors and the Tupapa-Maraerenga Panthers has been cancelled.
It’s all hands on deck in Aitutaki as the island recovers from devastating damages caused by cyclone Pat on Tuesday night.
It is not clear if the Sharks will be able to play again as the young men in the team are doing their best to rebuild their homes and lives.
Meanwhile the Takuvaine warriors will donate all their gate takings raised from their games on Saturday to their brothers in Aitutaki.
The Warriors will be taking on the Panthers in the reserve and age grade teams.
Show your support for the Sharks and the people of Aitutaki and head to the happy valley for some great age grade rugby league.
Meanwhile the Bulldogs will host the Sea Eagles today at the Titikaveka College field while the match of the day on Saturday will be the clash between the slippery Eels from Avatiu and the ferocious Bears from Arorangi.
All matches between these two rival clubs will be played at Raemaru Park.
Tourists experience cyclone Pat
For Barbara Robertson, the most impressive thing about cyclone Pat was the local Aitutakians’ reaction to the storm that whipped wind and flying bits of roof and tree into a violent whirl.
“That’s the worst weather I’ve ever seen but they just push through it,” she said. “The people are almost stoic – they just cope.”
Robertson and her husband Ian hid from the cyclone in the dark safety of their hotel room’s wardrobe.
“It was so loud, and things were going crash and bang,” she said. “The noise was screaming. The roof, fronds and empty wheelie bins were all flying around and it sounded like they were going to come through the walls.”
The Robertsons, who hail from the United Kingdom and are fourth-time visitors to the Cook Islands, said they were awake until six in the morning, listening to the howl of the wind.
They emerged from their hideout yesterday to find trees bent and broken on the road and spoke to locals who said they’d plucked fish out of bushes and heaved pieces of metal from the sea floor.
“It made you weep, really,” Barbara said. “It was just quite frightening.”
Ian said that he knew “something was coming, but totally underestimated it.” He said that Pat’s intensity caught tourists and locals alike by surprise.
The Robertsons said they were pleased with the way resort staff responded to the disaster. Ian said he was grateful for the torch he was supplied, though his friend in the room next door wasn’t quite so lucky.
“I had no light. When you’re not able to see and you can just hear the noise, your imagination gets carried away,” the English tourist said.
But amidst all the ruckus, six-year-old Rico Bearman of Australia wasn’t letting his imagination run wild – he was sleeping.
“There was stuff flying around but no, I wasn’t scared,” he said.
His mum Deane said that even though she was awake during the cyclone, she didn’t comprehend its power until yesterday morning. She said she was surprised by the amount of damage the island sustained.
And though a number of tourists were forced to cancel their Thursday travel plans, some were still determined to make it to Aitutaki.
“A lot of people would shy away but not us,” said Fay Johnston, who once resided on Atiu. “We’re still going. We’re not scared!”
Travelling with Fay was Bill Hol of New Zealand, who said that he’d packed 20 loaves of bread and “heaps of food,” just in case.
Bryan Alden, who met Fay and Bill on a trip to Atiu, said that he phoned the State Emergency Service back home in Australia as a precaution but he and his family were pretty unruffled otherwise.
“We don’t even know whether our accommodation is still there,” Alden said. “But we’re going.”
Americans Mike and Diane Sloan were also determined to get to Aitutaki, and like Alden, they didn’t know whether their hotel survived Pat’s wrath.
“We’re either brave or not very smart,” Diane said with a laugh.
But the tourists – those who trembled during the turmoil and those who snored through it – aren’t going to let Pat taint their experience of the Cook Islands, and hope to be back someday soon.
Secretary confident with preparations
Health secretary Tupou Faireka may be out of the country, but this week he kept in close contact with Rarotonga to ensure the ministry would be able to provide emergency and essential health services in the wake of cyclone Pat.
Faireka said he was confident that his ministry has the capacity to deal with the potential effects of the cyclone.
He told Cook Islands News he would be suggesting that a medical team fly to Aitutaki to assess the situation there.
“Probably a doctor and one of the directors of health with a team may need to go there,” he said, adding that communications with the health staff in Aitutaki had not yet been established.
Faireka is currently in Port Vila, Vanuatu attending the UN Pacific Conference on the Human Face of the Global Economic Crisis.
“I talked to the minister (of health Apii Piho) this morning and I’m keeping in touch by email with (acting health secretary) Dr Rangi (Fariu). I heard that the ministry has been closed but essential services will continue,” he said. “We’ve got the capacity to handle any devastating effects of the cyclone. We have the staff, resources, and we are well trained.”
The conference concluded last night.
Cyclone Pat appeal next week
Aitutakians on Rarotonga are rallying to organise a fundraising appeal to assist with the relief effort on Aitutaki following tropical cyclone Pat.
Aitutaki Community secretary Mona Ioane said that a meeting of the executive was held yesterday and it is anticipated that a radiothon, along with food stalls at Te Atukura, will be held on Friday, February 19.
A public meeting to finalise details for the fundraiser will be held at the Aitutaki hostel on Monday, February 15 at 4.30pm.
Ioane said that already he has been flooded by calls from Aitutakians overseas wanting to know what has happened in the homeland, and what they can do to assist.
The limited communication links with the island is frustrating said Ioane and he is hoping that one of the executives can get over to Aitutaki before Monday’s meeting.
Ioane said that next week’s fundraiser – Araura Enua Pat Appeal -- has been supported by the island’s aronga mana and three members of parliament.
Resort suffers damage
The Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa suffered structural damage after tropical cyclone Pat ripped through the island.
“We sustained significant damage with the loss of the beach bar and restaurant,” said managing director Tata Crocombe. The wedding pavilion and other buildings were also seriously damaged.
Crocombe said the guests and staff were evacuated off Akitua and taken to the Mormon church on the main island on Tuesday afternoon.
Around 40 guests were due to fly into Aitutaki yesterday to stay at the resort.
As for guests at the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa, Crocombe said early yesterday afternoon that they were monitoring the situation.
The gale warning in place for Rarotonga was cancelled just after 5.30pm.
State of disaster declared
The prime minister Jim Marurai declared a state of disaster in Aitutaki after the island was battered by tropical cyclone Pat.
The declaration was made after the PM met yesterday morning with cabinet, the director for Emergency Management Cook Islands and the police commissioner Maara Tetava.
A public announcement was made by Marurai on Radio Cook Islands just before midday yesterday.
“I am satisfied that a declaration for a state of disaster is required for the best interest of the people of Aitutaki. I now call upon all responding agencies and the community for their support and cooperation during this time of a disaster,” said Marurai.
A state of emergency was also declared for Rarotonga by the prime minister.
“A declaration for a state of emergency is required to ensure the safety of our people in Rarotonga. I now call upon all responding agencies and the community to prepare for this emergency.”
Just after the meeting EMCI director Charles Carlson put out an email which stated the following:
“The good news is TC Pat has passed Aitutaki, the bad news is TC Pat is heading towards Rarotonga. The prediction is that TC is expected to hit Rarotonga about 2pm today. So please let’s all be prepared and take good care out there.”
After a query from one person on the mailing list who questioned the accuracy of information being disseminated, it prompted met service director Arona Ngari to clarify the situation through an email just after 1pm.
“The comments by EMCI are supposed to state that Rarotonga will be feeling gale force winds as of 2pm this afternoon based on the predicted path. TC Pat is still expected to pass 150 miles to the northwest of Rarotonga thus giving gale force winds for Rarotonga. If the system takes a more southerly direction, then the winds will be stronger. The threat at this stage is still for Rarotonga.”
Response team due in Aitutaki
Police commissioner Maara Tetava said they are hoping to make a quick assessment of the situation on Aitutaki before a response team leaves for the island today.
Tetava, who assumed the position of national disaster controller, said two officers were onboard one of two Air Rarotonga aircraft which flew to Mauke to shelter from the cyclone.
The two aircraft then flew to Aitutaki just after two.
The flight was to conduct an aerial survey of the island and check out the condition of the airport.
Earlier yesterday, Aitutaki resident Mike Henry reported that the airport was clear of debris.
“If all goes well we will have a team on the ground tomorrow [Thursday],” said Tetava.
The police patrol boat Te Kukupa is also on standby to go to Aitutaki if needed.
Tetava said a team is being put together by EMCI director Charles Carlson which will also include Telecom technicians and Te Aponga Uira (power) staff.
Tetava said that initial reports paint a grim picture on the ground in Aitutaki.
Up to 70 power poles have been blown over and it is estimated that it could take some weeks to fully restore power. When power was cut in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Aitutaki hospital switched over to an emergency generator.
Tetava said that to date there was only one report of a female gashing her leg and being admitted to hospital.
The national emergency operating centre (NEOC) was activated yesterday morning and is working out of the Telecom Cook Islands building in Parekura.
There were no commercial Air Rarotonga flights up to mid-afternoon yesterday.
One flight took off just after 4pm for Aitutaki.
Airport authority’s chief executive officer Joe Ngamata said that they had been in contact with their counterparts in Aitutaki during Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
According to photos seen by Cook Islands News, the tiles were blown off the roof of the terminal.
Air New Zealand’s manager David Bridge said late yesterday that the early Thursday morning flight was to arrive as per schedule but that they were constantly monitoring the situation.
Met service director Arona Ngari said that the height of the hurricane would have been at 2am yesterday morning with reports of winds up to 100 knots (185kph) near the centre.
At 8pm last night, Pat was around 150 nautical miles to the northwest of Rarotonga and moving in a southwesterly direction.