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Tourists experience cyclone Pat

Friday 12 February 2010 | Published in Regional


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.