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Power and water top priority

Saturday 13 February 2010 | Published in Regional


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