Tue, Mar 01, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Cook Islands suffer as Cyclone Percy roars through area

AP , WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

Hundreds fled to storm shelters in the remote northern Cook Islands yesterday as the fourth cyclone in a month lashed the South Pacific nation.

Cyclone Percy, with winds of up to 200kph, passed near the islands' Pukapuka Atoll early yesterday and was near Nassau by mid-afternoon.

Pukapuka lost all contact with the outside world early yesterday. Contact was restored later in the day, and the island reported widespread damage but no casualties.

"They really would have copped it," said New Zealand MetService lead forecaster Steve Ready. "Not only from the wind but ... the sea can come up with it too."

"Pukapuka is just a coral atoll," Ready said. "They would have had no protection at all."

The group of 15 small islands, home to about 20,000 people, lie half way between Hawaii and New Zealand.

The Cook Islands' National Emergency Management Center said Pukapuka's 600 residents had moved to higher ground to shelter in the islands' school, while 70 people from Nassau's only village had moved to its two main churches.

Nassau reported heavy rain and winds that damaged houses, said the emergency center's spokesman, Chief Inspector John Tini.

A New Zealand air force plane taking emergency aid to the country's main island of Rarotonga -- south of the worst-hit areas -- could be used to assess damage in the north, Tini said.

Cyclone Percy was slowly heading southeast and was expected to turn more southward, passing to the east of American Samoa, Ready said.

He said the timing of the turn was critical for the Cook Islands' Rakahanga and Manihiki atolls, which lie east of Pukapuka.

Cyclone Percy struck the three islands of Tokelau, another Pacific island group northwest of the Cook Islands on Sunday, seriously injuring one person and washing two people out to sea. The pair were rescued.

New Zealand, which administers Tokelau, will provide NZ$500,000 (US$362,000) in cyclone aid to the emerging nation of 1,400 people.

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