Mayor says Aitutaki storm worst in memory

Updated at 4:56 pm on 11 February 2010

The Mayor of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands says Cyclone Pat is the worst to strike the island in living memory.

Mayor Tai Herman says the eye of the storm appeared to pass right over the island with winds of ripping off roofing, uprooting coconut palms and destroying the electricity network.

Mr Herman, who is in charge of disaster management on Aitutaki, says despite people making efforts to protect their homes the force of the cyclone was the most powerful ever experienced.

"Houses were tied down with wires and ropes but the winds just, it wasn't any matter to the wind, it just took it out. There was not much of the sea, or sea damage, it was the wind that caused the damage. And in fact I was talking to a lot of the elderly people who had not experienced anything like this in their life before. This is the worst."

Tai Herman says the winds were stronger than predicted, blowing consistently at 100knots with gusts up to 130 knots for up to four hours overnight.

He says there are trees and power poles all over the roads and people have sought shelter in schools and community halls with many homes destroyed.

He says by lunch time the sun was out with just a light breeze and the task of trying to restore power to the island has now begun.

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A New Zealander on Aitutaki says the island was battered by Cyclone Pat for over three hours this morning.

Up to 90 percent of houses have suffered roofing damage, with trees ripped out, and power lines down.

Megan Watson is on Aitutaki and says it appears all the rooves of the houses have been ripped off, trees have been torn from the ground, a school block is ripped apart and water tanks

She says she and about 30 locals and 30 tourists were evacuated to a church on higher ground last night, and the cyclone hit at about four this morning.

It was like the loudest wind you've ever heard and then because the rooves had been ripped off the houses and the water tanks were flying past and trees. It just sounded like chaos.

Megan Watson says they will be spending tonight in the church again.

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The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Jim Marurai has declared a State of Disaster in response to the destruction caused by Cyclone Pat today.

The Prime Minister's executive advisor, Trevor Pitt, says the announcement has just been made.

The Prime Minister has issued two declarations within the last couple of hours which have been broadcast on local national radio and television. The first was to declare a State of Disaster for Aitutaki and the second was to declare a State of Emergency for Rarotonga.

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The Cook Islands national emergency operations centre says Cyclone Pat appears to be decreasing in intensity and moving away from Rarotonga.

Sergeant Pa Va'inerere says cyclone Pat is located 120 nautical miles north west of Rarotonga, moving towards the south west at 15 knots and is expected to accelerate further away.

He says the report from Aitutaki is that two people have been injured, with no casualties.

At the moment, the island volunteers and disaster management team are in the process of clearing the roads for access. The airport is ok so we have two flights flying out there to assess the situation.

Sergeant Pa Va'inerere says they should get further confirmation of the cyclone's weakening later this afternoon.

The New Zealand aid agency, NZAID, says this country is on standby to help the Cook Islands, if required.

Next story in Pacific: Cook Islands Government announces State of Disaster for Aitutaki