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The Cook Islands: Aitutaki and Images from the Storm

February 23, 2010

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One month before the cyclone: Aitutaki moon: Photo by me

Tropical cyclones have always taken aim at the Cook Islands.  A couple of weeks ago a storm innocuously named Pat called on Aitutaki and demolished the island’s infrastructure.

The hurricane chose its arrival date poorly.  Here in the United States, the news people were all aflutter with the Tiger Woods infidelity scandal, and the public had been maxed out on disaster coverage after the Haiti earthquake.  So the powers that control information in this country felt, not unreasonably from their point of view, that no one would care about a storm in Polynesia, especially one that resulted in no deaths, at least not on Aitutaki.  The old adage, “If it bleeds it leads,” still stands,  sound advice to those who depend on advertising dollars to finance their news broadcasts.

So when we heard about the cyclone our only source of information was the internet; Radio New Zealand provided a good store of news about the event.  Surprisingly that web site did not get all the facts straight.  They maintained that the brunt of the storm was felt by the northwest side of the island where most of the beach hotels are located.  We imagined near-total destruction of the local tourist trade.  Luckily – but not for the residents there – the opposite side of the island was hit the hardest, with the villages of Vaipae and Tautu sustaining the greatest damage.

Most of the island’s houses lost their roofs. The storm also gutted the small plots of land from which the residents get their food, and the power grid was destroyed.  Two people were injured during the hurricane, which struck at night.  Aitutaki had enough warning of its path and most everyone found shelter before Pat came ashore.

The Kiwis, who guard the interests of the Cook Islands on the international scene, responded admirably.  Their army even showed up, we hear.  Otherwise, lots of outside volunteer electricians and construction workers  have donated their time and expertise to rebuilding.  Help has been offered from as far away as Canada.

But the USA has remained silent.  Few Americans could even locate the Cook Islands on a map, much less Aitutaki.

THE DAY AFTER THE STORM: Photos by Ngaakitai Pureariki

1) Damaged house

2) Debris on road

3) Ngaa with the remains of his once highly-productive hydroponic greenhouse

UPDATE: March 30, 2010

Our friends on Aitutaki have told us most of the debris from the storm has now been picked up and the electrical grid has been restored.  Even tourists are arriving for holidays on schedule.

However the island’s vegetation was effectively defoliated; nature will take time to repair the damage.  And rebuilding houses that lost roofs or worse is progressing slowly.  Some of the luckier residents, whose houses sustained little or no damage,  still have house-guests, courtesy of Cyclone Pat.

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