Fri, Mar 04, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Cyclone still threatening Pacific isles

AP , WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

Cyclone Percy headed southward yesterday, menacing the Cook Islands' main population center, the island of Rarotonga, officials said.

The storm has battered two of the Cook Islands' northern atolls, but was slowly weakening as it churned southward -- though its winds were still gusting as high as 255km an hour -- said Fiji-based cyclone meteorologist Ian Shepherd.

Cyclone Percy smashed up to 90 percent of the buildings on the country's two northern atolls, Pukapuka and Nassau, on Monday.

Emergency shelters have opened and some people on Raratonga's western coast have left homes and hotels near the sea, said the islands' deputy police commissioner, Maara Tevata.

"We expect to get something," he said, commenting on the prospects of possible storm damage.

Government offices, schools, some businesses and tourist resorts on the island have been closed, Tevata said.

Earlier, the storm passed to the west of the Cook Islands' Palmerston atoll, a tiny islet with 50 people, causing little damage, said Tevata.

Percy is the fourth cyclone to slam the South Pacific nation in as many weeks.

No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, but the storms have brought widespread damage to buildings, trees and crops.

Urgently needed shelter materials, food and water were expected to reach the islands' 670 residents by boat tomorrow.

On its present southerly track, Shepherd said, "Rarotonga will only experience the outer edge of the storm ... and we expect the [cyclone's] center to skirt ... south."

It would bring gale-force winds and heavy sea swells to the island by midnight yesterday, Shepherd said, with a high tide at about the same time.

Shepherd said the cyclone was expected to turn eastward once it had passed the southern Cook Islands, continue weakening and head off into open ocean.

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