Officials are promising to do improve their communications with the public, after failing to get the word out about the forced closure of roads and schools in Rarotonga yesterday.
Radio and social media were used as the main vehicles to inform parents after the tropical depression (TD08F) caused high winds, sea surges and widespread flooding. The seawall road, too, was closed as big waves smashed over the top.
Many parents expressed their frustration as they had already sent their children to school, by the time the closures were belatedly announced. Others turned up at schools to drop off their children, unaware they were shut down.
After 8am, some children were seen playing unsupervised in the rough seas at Blackrock and Avarua port.
Prime Minister Henry Puna said he had spoken to Education Secretary Danielle Cochrane about how late families were advised.
“It’s unfortunate the closures were announced very late because by that point parents and children were already mobilised,” he said. “Many children were already on their way to school or had been dropped off by parents.”
Emergency Management Cook Islands director Charles Carlson acknowledged challenges in getting the word out at a very short notice yesterday, and said they were working to address the issue as soon as possible.
Initially parents spread news of the closures by word of mouth, until Cook Islands News confirmed details and got information out widely by posting the news on its website, Facebook page and the Rarotonga Community page.
“There are some lessons learnt from this exercise and we will explore the various options of using radio, social media including the mass text messaging,” Carlson said.
Emergency Management Cook Islands had been monitoring the tropical depression since it was formed and it was fortunate it did not turn into a cyclone.
Carlson said when calls were received regarding the safety of schools, and bearing in mind some of the schools were along coastal areas, a quick decision needed to be made.
This would be done in consultation with Cook Islands Meteorological Service, Police Commissioner Maara Tetava and the Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas.
“This is one of those events when a decision has to be made at a very short notice which can be an inconvenience to everyone’s busy schedule,” he said.
“At the end of the day I believe it is better to err on the side of safety then to be sorry later.”
Education secretary Danielle Cochrane said the Education Ministry acted on the advice of those agency heads, as was normal practice.
“Acknowledging that notice did come late in the morning with many already en route to school, emails were sent immediately to all principals on Rarotonga with follow-up phone calls advising that school would be closed for students,” she said.
The same message was then promoted on radio and social media platforms.
“Schools do have access to SMS broadcasting systems and other communication strategies, and these would have been initiated immediately after receiving advice,” Cochrane said.
“We will continue to strengthen our communication with parents, families and the community to ensure everyone is informed. Safety and wellbeing of our students is priority.”
On advice from Emergency Cook Islands and the meteorological office, all Rarotonga schools are set to reopen today, Wednesday, to all students, teachers and staff.
The Chefs Association national cooking competition, scheduled for yesterday, has been postponed to tomorrow.
At 4pm yesterday, met service director Arona Ngari said TD08F was located to the far south of Rarotonga and moving south.
“For us, northerly winds with some showers, heavy at times with rough seas. Looking at the seas to abate by Wednesday evening.”
WeatherWatch.co.nz head forecaster Philip Duncan said the cyclone forecast to develop between Samoa and the Cook Islands earlier this week was struggling to organise itself as another tropical low formed nearby.
It was a case of “too many cooks spoil the broth,” he said, but in this case rather than too many people it was too many moving parts to the weather, which was spreading the energy. “We have two lows, both had the potential of becoming cyclones and both are getting in the way of each other, stealing' energy from each other.”