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Rarotonga on alert, schools closed

Friday 16 February 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Education, Local, National, Outer Islands, Weather


Rarotonga on alert, schools closed
Local businesses, particularly those in flood-prone areas, took precautions by installing cyclone shutters in anticipation of the adverse weather. MELINA ETCHES/24021512

A tropical depression affecting the Cook Islands group was forecast to intensify into a category one cyclone by this morning, triggering advisories from local authorities. This morning the Ministry of Education confirmed that all schools in Rarotonga are closed but it is business as usual for others.

Cook Islands Meteorological Service operational observer Nathan Tisam explained that as of yesterday evening (5pm), tropical depression (TD10F) was still maintaining its course moving in a south-east direction at 15 knots with maximum 10-minute average winds near the centre at about 30 knots.

Yesterday, Tisam stated the system had a high chance of becoming a category one cyclone within the next 18 hours, but the risk was expected to decrease afterward.

“Forecast track has the system reaching category 1 intensity somewhere between Rarotonga and Aitutaki,” he said.

Also read: Rarotonga businesses ready to weather the storm  

Local businesses, particularly those in flood-prone areas, took precautions by installing cyclone shutters in anticipation of the adverse weather.

The Ministry of Education and Emergency Management Cook Islands (EMCI) were closely monitoring the weather situation yesterday to determine if Rarotonga schools would be open today.

Secretary for Education Owen Lewis yesterday afternoon said that the final decision regarding schools’ status for today would be made that night, after receiving a comprehensive briefing from EMCI and considering the current weather disturbance.

Lewis said this decision would be informed by the recommendations of the Director of EMCI at the Office of the Prime Minister.

He said that principals were duly informed and were on standby for further guidance.

“It’s important to highlight that this decision is not independently made by the Ministry of Education but is contingent on the information received and the directives and recommendations put forth by the EMCI Director and his team.”

Lewis explained that for the Pa Enua, the responsibility for deciding to close schools in response to emergencies lies with the island councils, which would involve consultations with the Ministry of Education.

He said he was aware that certain Pa Enua schools were closed yesterday in response to the warnings that were received.

EMCI director John Strickland said that yesterday morning they had a meeting with Minister Albert Nicholas and other government officials including Lewis, Ministry of Transport, Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC), Police, weather and climate change representatives.

“Although Special Weather Bulletin had escalated to a Tropical Cyclone Warning, but is still classified as TD10F for it has not yet reached the threshold to be officially named as a Tropical Cyclone (as of last night,” Strickland said yesterday.

All the ships have evacuated, and all of the boats in the Avatiu marina have been taken out of the water to a secure area. MELINA ETCHES/24021503/ 24021504/ 24021505/ 24021506

EMCI, the Met Office, and Climate Change Cook Islands were scheduled to meet yesterday afternoon to assess whether schools in Rarotonga and the Southern Cook Islands should be closed today.

The Met Office, EMCI and Police were closely monitoring weather conditions for Aitutaki, Mitiaro, Mauke, Atiu last night.

Aitutaki felt strong winds yesterday. CHARLES MURIWAI/ 24021536

In Aitutaki, as of yesterday afternoon wind had picked up with some showers. In Palmerston Island, resident Julianna Marsters said they were experiencing north easterly winds (40 to 50 knots) which was expected to increase later last night.

Marsters said waves looked rough at about 20 metres high when crushing the reef side.

She said the community had some emergency exercises and practices, school closed and some people were put on monitoring duties.

Air Rarotonga cancelled yesterday afternoons flight to Aitutaki.

“Earlier in the week we rescheduled Northern Group flights until this weekend and next Monday,” Air Rarotonga’s managing director Ewan Smith confirmed.

Meanwhile, Rarotonga received 67.8 millimetres (mm) of rain over 24 hours from Wednesday 8am to Thursday 8am, while Aitutaki saw significantly higher rainfall with 158.5mm.