Be cyclone-ready now

Wednesday December 28, 2016 Written by Published in Weather
Charles Carlson, director of EMCI. 16122201 Charles Carlson, director of EMCI. 16122201

Cyclone season is here and people should already be fully prepared for a major storm, says director of Emergency Management Cook Islands, Charles Carlson.


That means having your roof tied down, food and water for at least three or four days, a first aid kit and a battery-operated radio.

Carlson says cyclone season is always time to prepare.

“The challenge is that because no cyclone has happened for a while, people get pretty complacent about it.

“They think nothing will happen so being prepared is one of those things we have to get across to them.”

He said the last cyclones hit Rarotonga in 2005 – and there were five of them.

Cyclone Olaf, Meena, Nancy, Percy and Rae.

In 2010 Cyclone Pat unleashed 185km/h winds that devastated Aitutaki.

An estimated 78 per cent of homes were damaged, with 72 buildings destroyed.  Power and water were lost and most crops destroyed.

Repairing the damage on Aitutaki cost NZ$18 million. Fortunately casualties were minimal with only eight minor injuries reported.

Carlson says: “People are complacent. Now and then I take a drive around the island and you can see some people who have tied their roofs down. And, obviously, they are aware of the cyclone season.

“Then we get a lot of sub-standard houses and you think people will do something about it, but they haven’t.

“That’s the message we’ve got to get across. Look at the damage done by all cyclones on sub-standard homes - here in Cook Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu.

“Lessons we learned on Aitutaki were that even those sub-standard houses actually did survive when the roofs were tied down. Little things like that help.

“An advantage is we have a lot of new housing, but there are still things to do for old houses.”

Carlson says: “We have traditional safety centres and the challenge for us is to get those up to standard.

“Most of them are community buildings, we don’t have specific safety shelters.

In the past we tended to use government properties, like schools, but schools are not built to be safety shelters.

We are working with community groups to identify existing buildings we could upgrade, or retrofit to at least make the minimum standard.

 “There are a lot of sturdy community buildings and churches. We are in the process of identifying those. There are disaster rescue management committees in each village that can look for existing structures in their areas.”

Ideally the shelters would be inland, he says.

In the event of a cyclone bearing down on Rarotonga the Emergency Management team will put out warnings.

“We work closely with meteorological services and also the police. So if there is information of any cyclone heading our way then we will activate a warning.”

That will include special weather bulletins on radio and in the media.”

“Sirens,” he says, “will be a last resort.

“If you hear those that means you’ve got to move … especially from coastal areas.”

And Carlson says he cannot stress enough that people should already be preparing.

“If you think your house is not safe. You should do something about it.

“In the event of a cyclone look for the strongest room in the house, it could be the bathroom or even the wardrobe.”

Carlson says the biggest worry is flying metal from roofs, so “definitely stay inside”.

“You always get people going around sightseeing. It’s the last thing you should be doing. We discourage people from sightseeing and putting themselves – and others who have to come and rescue them – in danger.”

So what would a basic survival package be?

Carlson recommends: A first-aid kit, battery radio (a must), food and water for at least three to four days.  Make sure your gas bottle is full and you have tinned food.  Power is likely to be lost and frozen food will likely go off, he says. Less-perishable foodstuffs are handy to have.

He says: “You need to be ready for those immediate times afterwards, as shops won’t be open.”

And he suggests: “People will be rushing to shops in last days before a storm. It is much better to be prepared in advance.

“You should be prepared now.”

Carlson also reminds people that tropical depressions can be almost as damaging as cyclones.  And the one that has just hit Fiji was a classic example, he says.

“The only difference is tropical depressions don’t last as long a period as a cyclone. The wind and the waves can be damaging and we have to expect that … it’s cyclone season. Risk of cyclone low, but storms are always around. We are always going to get some bad weather.”

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