Passing the buck on cyclone hazards

Friday February 26, 2016 Written by Published in Weather
This burned out building opposite the Beachcomber in Taputapuatea has already lost part of its roofing iron, and high winds could easily blow more of it off , posing a lethal danger. 16022507 This burned out building opposite the Beachcomber in Taputapuatea has already lost part of its roofing iron, and high winds could easily blow more of it off , posing a lethal danger. 16022507

Old and unsafe buildings and trees on Rarotonga could quickly be transformed into lethal weapons if a cyclone hits the island.

 

But despite constantly offering residents tips on staying safe and protecting their homes, emergency services and government agencies are ignoring hazards that could potentially kill people, saying that dealing with them is not their responsibility.

The issue was highlighted last week when Clare Wheeldon, manager of The Café in the Beachcomber building, phoned Infrastructure Cook Islands to report that roofing iron had been blown off a burnt-out building opposite the Beachcomber and that the remaining iron was insecure.

Wheeldon says the ICI representative she spoke to said the ministry wasn’t responsible for fixing issues like that, so she phoned the police, but got no help there either. She then tried the Fire Service.

“They were very nice, but they said they didn’t deal with that kind of thing. So we tried ICI again and this time they called back and said Tupapa MP George Maggie would have a look at it. But we haven’t seen anything of him.

“The thing is, there could be a cyclone on the way and the roofing iron could blow off and kill someone.

“We have been told it’s the landowner’s responsibility to do something it, but the landowner is apparently overseas, so it’s not likely that anything will be done.”

Emergency Management Cook Islands Director Charles Carlson says the problem highlights deficiencies in the Disaster Risk Management Act 2007, which replaced the Hurricane Safety Act, 1973.

“It’s a big problem and it’s an ongoing issue. We are pushing for a legislative review which would allow us to do something about hazardous buildings and trees.

“People have contacted us who are concerned about things like trees on neighbouring properties leaning over into their homes. 

Then there are all the shacks on the beach everywhere around the island which would become are a hazard for everyone if the island was hit by a big cyclone.

“But until we can get legislation changed, we can’t lawfully do anything about these things.”

The massive storm which devastated parts of Fiji last weekend, leaving 42 dead, highlights the fact that during a major cyclone, fragile and badly-constructed buildings are quickly destroyed and blown apart, causing considerable danger to lives and property.

One media report said most of the people who died in Cyclone Winston had been hit by flying debris or were in buildings which collapsed.

The report, which appeared on The Guardian website, quoted Ewan Perrin, Fiji’s permanent secretary for communications, as saying that a number of people had also been hospitalised with severe injuries.

 

Winds from Cyclone Winston reached 285kph (177mph).

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