11 Feb 2010

Devastating cyclone bypasses Rarotonga

10:23 pm on 11 February 2010

A cyclone that devastated homes on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands has bypassed Rarotonga with very little damage, according to New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT).

Cyclone Pat lashed the popular tourist island for about three hours from 4am on Thursday, damaging 90% of homes, ripping out trees and cutting power.

The Category 3 cyclone has now weakened as is moving away from land into open water late on Thursday.

MFAT says the gale warning for the Cook Islands has been lifted but a state of disaster remains in place in Aitutaki.

Nightfall has now put a stop to the clean-up operation but police say it will resume early on Friday.

Sergeant Are Inga'ua says most of Aitutaki is without power and many houses have had their roofs ripped off or walls blown in.

Aitutaki mayor Tai Herman says the force of the cyclone was greater than anyone can remember.

Many residents and tourists have been evacuated, but only two people have been reported as injured.

New Zealander Megan Watson is staying in Aitutaki and says about 30 tourists and 30 locals were evacuated to a church on higher ground on Wednesday night where they will stay for another night.

NZ Aid and the Red Cross are on stand-by to send volunteers to the Cook Islands if help is requested.

The Red Cross says it has already sent supplies and will send communications equipment on Friday.

The regional weather centre in Fiji is warning people to avoid going to sea for the next few days due to huge swells caused by Cyclone Pat.