State of emergency in storm-hit Cook Islands

A state of emergency has been declared in part of the Cook Islands after Cyclone Percy slammed into the region leaving only 10 houses intact in an area home to more than 600 people, authorities said on Tuesday.

“A state of emergency has been declared on the islands of Pukapuka and Nassau [in the northern Cooks], and attempts are being made to deliver water, food and other relief supplies to the area,” Radio Australia reported.

Chief Inspector John Tini of the Cook Islands Emergency Operations Centre said there is only about a week’s supply of water on Pukapuka and Nassau.

“There have been some tropical cyclones hitting one or the other in the past but that is the first time both islands were hit,” he said.

Percy hit the islands packing winds of up to 230kph.

Tini said all houses on Nassau were “severely damaged or destroyed” and they may evacuate women and young children while repairs are made.

Cooks deputy police commissioner Maara Tetava said people on the islands are running short of imported goods such as corned beef and rice but have plenty of fish, taro and other local crops.

One man who went missing in the storm was later found on another part of the island.

“He’s okay and safe—maybe a little cold from the rain,” Tetava said.

A New Zealand Air Force Orion found a crippled American Samoan fishing boat 700km north-west of Samoa.

Rescue Coordination Centre spokesperson Heidi Brook said all seven crew on board were safe but the vessel was without power.

“When she was in the cyclone area and the weather conditions were pretty bad, she had all her windows blown in, but the crew had managed to board them up and pump out most of the water,” Brook said.

Percy continued to weaken as it turned south, taking the storm away from the populated islands of the northern Cooks.

The Fiji Meteorological Service maintained a tropical cyclone alert for the southern Cooks, including a strong wind warning for Palmerston. Authorities in Niue and American Samoa were urged to remain on alert should Percy make a south-westerly turn.

There has been no contact with American Samoa’s Swain’s Island since it was hit by the storm on Saturday. A United States Coast Guard plane, which was to make a food and medical drop on the island, developed mechanical problems and had to return to Honolulu.

Three days ago, Percy caused widespread damage in Tokelau and injured one person on the atoll of Fakaofo.

Tokelau telecommunications general manager Tino Vitale said a boat carrying a doctor and relief supplies was heading from the main atoll of Nukunonu for Fakaofo on Monday morning.

Percy is the fourth cyclone to batter the region during February, and the Cook Islands were battered by all three earlier cyclones—Olaf, Nancy and Meena.—Sapa-AFP

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