Cyclone Percy threatens another island

The Cook Islands’ main island of Rarotonga battened down on Wednesday as Cyclone Percy continued to batter the tiny South Pacific nation.

The cyclone, which dropped to category four from the maximum five during the day, passed to the west of the island of Palmerston early on Wednesday, the Australian-Pacific Centre for Emergency and Disaster Information (Apcedi) said.

Percy did not get any closer than 160km from Palmerston, causing only minor damage and saving the population of about 50 from the full destructive force of the cyclone, Apcedi said.

It lay 235km south-southwest of Palmerston Atoll and about 355km west-northwest of Rarotonga on Wednesday evening and was moving south-southeast at 27kph, the Fiji Meteorological Service said.

Percy is expected to weaken further over the next two days, it said. If it maintains its present course, it should not get closer than about 355km to Rarotonga but a change to a more south-easterly course would have a more devastating impact.

Businesses, schools and government offices in Rarotonga, which has a population of about 10 000, were closed on Wednesday as residents completed preparations to protect themselves and property against Percy.

Even if the cyclone maintains its course, Rarotonga and the island of Mangaia to the east could expect a strong tidal surge and damaging gales. However, sustained hurricane-force winds would remain well offshore, Apcedi said.

“After passing west of the Cook Islands, Percy’s forecast track could take it close to the Austral Group of French Polynesia and the southernmost island of Rapa.”

Percy caused heavy damage to the three atolls of the New Zealand territory of Tokelau late last week before destroying or damaging most of the buildings on the islands of Pukapuka and Nassau in the northern Cook Islands.
Relief supplies are expected to reach the islands, home to a population of about 670 people, by Friday or Saturday.

Percy is the fourth cyclone to hit the Cook Islands in the past month.—Sapa-AFP

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