Tropical cyclone Meena strikes Cook Islands

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Sunday, February 6, 2005

COOK ISLANDS — Emergency centre officials expressed relief on 6 February 2005 (local time) that damage from Tropical Cylone Meena, a category 5 storm, was less severe than anticipated after the eye of the storm bypassed the main island of Rarotonga.

Over the previous 2 days, as the storm made its way through the island group, flights to and from both Rarotonga and the outlying islands had been suspended, planes put under cover or flown out of the area and tourist resorts evacuated in the face of forecasts of 270 km/h wind gusts and 10 metre storm surges.

About 200 tourist stranded at Rarotonga Airport, after leaving their tourist resorts ahead of the storm, had to be evacuated to a local emergency shelter. Some criticised Air New Zealand for not giving more warning it was cancelling their flights.

Although flights resumed only 15 hours after the storm passed to the east, there was significant local flooding caused by 15 m high waves. Iconic store Trader Jacks was inundated by the sea as were other parts of Avarua town and northern Rarotonga coast. Although the cleanup is expected to take several weeks, damage was nowhere near as severe as that caused by Cyclone Heta to Niue in January 2004.