Satellite view of cyclone Pat
"The worst cyclone in living memory" - Mayor         "Unbelievable devastation" - NZ Air Force

Smashed beyond repair
Another victim of cyclone Pat
Some homes  were damaged beyond repair and their owners lost everything
Sources: Radio New Zealand, International Red Cross, World Health Organisation,  International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Radio Australia, Cook Islands News, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Habitat for Humanity, New Zealand Defence Force

The airport remains open
Only minor damage at the airport to the terminal roof
Ready to rebuild?
Some home owners said they could repair the damage...
and were quick to start work

Repairing the roof

8th February:  Cylone Pat formed in an area between Manihiki in the Northern Cook Islands and Samoa on Monday, 8th February at 1 am GMT (3 pm on 7th February, Cook Islands time).  At that stage, it didn't even have a name, just a reference (09F).  Six hours later, it was moving very slowly towards Manihiki, but it was only just a cyclone at this stage with winds of around 74 kph (46 mph).  A gale warning was issued for the Northern group of islands and the Southern group, including Aitutaki, was put on alert and told to monitor Pat's progress carefully, as it was gathering strength. 

9th February:  At 0329 GMT (5.29 pm on 8th February on Aitutaki), the tropical cyclone centre in Fiji issued a cyclone alert for the Southern group.  Pat was still moving slowly, but inexorably, towards Aitutaki, and it was growing in strength.   Winds at its centre were measured at 101 kph (63mph). 

10th February:  At 0031 GMT (2.31 pm on 9th February in Aitutaki), Pat was 175 kms (109 miles) north north east of Aitutaki and it was bringing with it destructive winds gusting regularly to 166 kph (103 mph) and briefly to 185 kph (115 mph).  Aitutaki was put on full alert and a gale warning issued for Rarotonga and Palmerston.  Less than 12 hours later (around 0200 Cook Islands time on 10th February), the cyclone hit Aitutaki head on.

Sources: Official warning bulletins from the RSMC-Nadi Tropical Cyclone Centre,
Rob Gutro, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA's Aqua satellite captured a visible image of Tropical Cyclone Pat as it was about 200 miles from Rarotonga on 9 February at 23:53 GMT (1353 Cook Islands time)   
Credit: NASA/JPL, Ed Olsen

80 people homeless      72 homes destroyed      317 homes severely damaged 
Photos: Left, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Cresent Societies    Right:  Jeffrey Vinicombe, Flickr photostream

Surveying the wreckage
Unloading Red Cross blankets
Mama amid her wrecked home
Destroyed by the wind
Another victim of cyclone Pat
Army and air force troops from New Zealand used a giant transport plane to shuttle emergency supplies to the island and worked with the Red Cross to distribute them.    Photos: Crown Copyright
Around 2 am local time on 10th February, the stunningly beautiful island of Aitutaki was hit head on by winds gusting to more than 185kph (115mph).  And for the next three hours, Cyclone Pat - classified as category 3 on a scale where 5 is the most severe - tore roofs off homes, ripped schools apart, snapped power lines in two, devastated agriculture and vegetation and sent tons of debris flying into the air.  Damage was estimated at NZ$15 million (UKĀ£7.1m, US$10.6m, 7.8m Euros). 
Mayor Tai Herman describd it as "the worst cyclone in living memory" on the island.  "Houses were tied down with wires and ropes...but it wasn't any matter to the wind", he explained the next day as he surveyed the aftermath.  Remarkably and thankfully though, there were only nine minor injuries. 

A visitor told Radio New Zealand International that she and about 60 tourists and locals were evacuated to a church on higher ground just before the cyclone hit.  She said: "It was like the loudest wind you've ever heard and then because the roofs had been ripped off the houses and the water tanks were flying past and trees,  it just sounded like chaos."
The Cook Islands government declared a state of disaster on Aitutaki as an initial survey reported that 90% of homes were damaged or destroyed.  New Zealand forces were scrambled to help.  Air force Flight Lieutenant Matt Walls said the destruction seemed "unbelievable" when he first landed.  "Debris strewn throughout the island, houses completely destroyed, most with their roofs and walls gone,"   He and other troops were amazed there weren't any serious injuries.
Over the two weeks following the cyclone, nearly 50 members of the New Zealand army and air force were deployed on 'Operation Cook Islands Assist' to deliver emergency supplies and help with urgent repair work. 

A giant C130 Hercules transport plane shuttled around 89,000 lbs (43,600 kgs)  of cargo to Rarotonga and onward to Aitutaki.   The loads included a water purification plant, two bobcat diggers, emergency shelters and tents, water containers, food, blankets and electrical cabling.  And 12 army engineers helped to build emergency shelters, restore power and fresh drinking water and repair Araura School which is the largest on the island.  Squadron Leader Kavae Tamariki said being in such a devastated area was "pretty humbling".

Just as the islanders were starting to think the worst was over, a new cyclone warning was issued.  Cyclone Sarah was looking dangerously like it was heading for Aitutaki.   In the end, it petered out bringing only some heavy rain and thunderstorms.  But they were also welcome because only days before, the police had issued a warning about a potential new disaster from fire because the ground was so dry and barren after Cyclone Pat had torn up all the crops and vegetation.
Tarpaulins provide a temporary fix
Aitutaki ingenuity
Aitutaki hospital
A massive rebuilding programme, led by the Cook Islands government, was finally completed in October, 2011. Millions of NZ dollars were donated to the efforts, including significant sums from the New Zealand government and via the International Red Cross and the European Union.
Aitutaki's tourist resorts and the stunning lagoon escaped with only minor damage, although resort  gardens were wrecked.  But within a few days, the island's tourism council was carrying on business as usual.   In a statement, they said:  "The people of Aitutaki are resilient and already have made good progress to returning their lives to normal,  but it will take much work and importantly it will need the support of our visitors from around the world."

Left: Hundreds of tarpaulins protected less badly damaged homes until rebuidling could begin
Centre: Aitutaki ingenuity!   A coconut tree felled in the cyclone made a great temporary power pole
Right: The hospital had NZ$300,000 of damage
Photos: Copyright, Cook Islands News
A special report by the website author
  who is a former BBC TV and radio journalist

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VIDEO CLIPS:  Most photos of the damage are taken from videos shot the day after the cyclone by CITV, Cook Islands Television.  
The videos are on CITV's YouTube channel


British couple, Ian and Barbara Robertson hid in the wardrobe of their hotel room during the cyclone.  Barbara told Cook Islands News; "It made you was just quite frightening".  But the fourth time visitors to the Islands were full of praise for the Islanders.  "That's the worst weather I've ever seen but they just push through it," she said. "The people are almost stoic - they just cope."
Photo: Cook Islands News