TOKELAU, PUKAPUKA DEVASTATED, STORM TO SOUTH

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MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Mar. 1) – The 1,400 people of Tokelau are faced with a massive clean-up job in the wake of Cyclone Percy, which has been described as the worst to hit the islands in living memory.

The island's administrator, Neil Walters, happened to be in Tokelau on business when the cyclone struck, coinciding with "king tides" that swamped the islands under up to a meter of sea water.

After a similar cyclone in 1966, much of Tokelau's population was relocated to New Zealand, as many traditional fale houses were destroyed.

But Mr Walters says that is unlikely to happen this time, and plans are already being made to rebuild.

"That's going to be pretty daunting, but again, people here are tough and resilient and they'll get on with it," he said. "We'll send up maintenance teams, whatever is needed to supplement what they've got here."

A ship carrying the first emergency supplies is not expected to arrive in Tokelau until the weekend.

[Meanwhile, according to Radio New Zealand International, nearly all of the 600 residents of Pukapuka Island and the 40 living on Nassau Island in the Northern Cook Islands, have lost their homes or suffered heavy damage by the cyclone, which hit after leaving damage in Tokelau and on Swains Island in Northern American Samoa. Most were reported to be staying in churches and schools.

An official reportedly said that food and water supplies were low and crops had been destroyed.

Cyclone Percy at last report was northwest of Palmerston Atoll – 310 miles northwest of the main island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands - and heading in a southerly direction but expected to turn towards the southeast, with winds of up to 230 kilometers per hour.

March 1, 2005

Radio Australia: www.abc.net.au/ra

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