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Second cyclone set to hit Cook Islands

A second tropical cyclone is forecast to hit the Cook Islands after a State of Disaster has been declared on the island of Aitutaki.

The Fiji Meteorological Service is forecasting Cyclone Rene to hit Nassau, Pukapuka, Suwarrow and nearby islands with gale force winds.

Meanwhile the New Zealand Air Force is on standby after Cyclone Pat struck Aitutaki yesterday.

The category-three cyclone passed through early in the day, damaging houses, felling trees and knocking out power and communications.

Despite the storm’s ferocity, there have been no reports of casualties or serious injuries.

Air Force spokesman Squadron Leader Kavae Tamariki said the Aitutaki Airport is open after debris was cleared from the main runway.

Mr Tamariki said the Cook Island Government is able to use its own planes to do fly-overs and inspect damage.

A spokesman for Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the Cook Islands Government is waiting for things to clear before making requests for help.

He said the New Zealand Government would if required.

A spokesman for the New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAid) said the islands had good emergency warning systems and people had time to head for shelters before the cyclone struck.

The New Zealand manager for Cook Islands Tourism, Chris Ingram, said about 60 percent of the houses on Aitutaki had been damaged. An unconfirmed report suggested that as many as 90 percent of houses had been affected in some way.

The island’s resort hotels fared better as they were built to withstand the cyclone season, although guests appeared shaken, Mr Ingram said.

“The fact it hit in the early hours of the morning when it was dark would certainly have intensified the experience. Guests and locals were moved to safety centres on the island and this no doubt contributed to the fact there were no casualties or injuries.”

Power remained off late yesterday, but some communications had been restored and the airport on Aitutaki had reopened.

Weather Watch head analyst Philip Duncan said Cyclone Pat was dying down as it travelled, but would still cause huge waves when it reached Rarotonga, where a state of emergency was declared.


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