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COOKS’ AITUTAKI HARD HIT BY CYCLONE PAT Property loss mounts, homeless living in shelters

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Feb. 13, 2010) – The Cook Islands emergency relief team says the damage on the island of Aitutaki is much worse than first thought.

Cyclone Pat, with winds of up to 200 kilometres an hour, damaged about 80 percent of houses on the island.

It also wrecked parts of the island’s infrastructure, up-rooting trees and ruining crops.

Engineers, Red Cross and health teams are amongst the full emergency management team now on Aitutaki.

The director of emergency management, Charles Carlson, says the team is currently looking at which houses remain habitable, which ones can be rebuilt or repaired, and those that are completely wrecked.

He says quite a few houses are totally destroyed and people are living in community centres or churches.

"The situation has basically affected everybody. Maybe just a couple of houses that’s still standing and in good shape but the majority, there’s if the houses are not affected then there’s fallen trees all over the place. There’s concrete power poles and they’ve just been flattened by the winds so it just shows you how strong these winds are. Some of the houses are just basically folded in, just like bulldozers just run through it."

Charles Carlson says food, water and electricity are amongst the other priorities for Aitutaki.

He says once the assessment is completed on the island, they will be asking for international assistance.

Cyclone Rene is now tending away from the northern Cooks with the two Samoas, Niue, Tonga and Fiji in its path.

Cyclone Rene is expected to hit American Samoa tomorrow and following advice from the Weather Bureau residents there have been stocking up.

They have been buying first aid kits, roofing iron, flashlights, tarpaulins, plywood, nails and water.

The Tool Shop’s Iusi Williams says they are struggling to cope with the demand for plywood.

"At the moment as we speak people are starting to come in to buy plywood to board up their homes and stuff, you know, life’s necessities right now like batteries, flashlights, and all that stuff to prepare themselves for the hurricane, but definitely people are starting to come in now, even our store down in Pago we had to deliver more plywood, because we are the only store over there."

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