Cyclone Tino has now been downgraded to a category 2 storm, and looks set to pass to the south of the country. But nonetheless, authorities have set up the national auditorium as an emergency evacuation centre.
The islands of Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Mangaia and Palmerston are expected to be the affected this afternoon (Saturday) with the tail of the cyclone predicted to hit the north-west and western sides of the islands around midday.
As Tino passed to the south of Niue, it was bearing to the south-west of Cook Islands southern group.
Cook Islands Met Service warned of flooding in coastal areas, especially on the west of the islands of Palmerston and Rarotonga, and urged care around high tides. The next high tide is 4.18pm Saturday.
Occasional rain is expected to become frequent later today, heavy at times, with squally thunderstorms. Winds of 20 to 30 knots will gust to 45 knots (85kmh).
The cyclone was designated Category 2 early Friday morning, and by 11am it was upgraded again to category 3 as it reached Tonga.
Arona Ngari, director at Cook Islands Meteorological Service, urged residents to clear their sections of any remaining debris or objects that could pose a threat. Boat owners were also asked to remove their boats from the ports.
“Anything that’s west of us and that’s developing with all these high seas, we just have to take a worst-case scenario and prepare for such an event,” said Ngari.
Andrew Whittaker, chief executive officer for the Edgewater Resort and Spa in Arorangi, said his staff were on standby.
On New Year’s Day, they had been forced to board up and evacuate guests from the Edgewater’s dining area after waves surged through the courtyard, pool and restaurant. This time, said Whittaker, they were extra-prepared.
“We’re tracking the course of Cyclone Tino. We are ready to board if we need too, if there’s any change in pathways, but at the moment it looks like it’s moving away from the Cooks,” he said.
“But we’re keeping very vigilant of what can happen, after Sarai.”
Last night, the cyclone hit Tonga’s capital Nukualofa, moving southeast at a speed of 15 knots.
Tonga residents were on alert with dozens seeking shelter in evacuation centres across the country. The cyclone was predicted to pass very close to, or even directly over, the island of Tongatapu.
Ngari said forecasts predicted no threat to the Cook Islands, but the periphery of the system would certainly have an impact – likely in the form of strong winds and storm surges.
Cook Islands Minister for Culture George Maggie is taking matters into his own hands and plans to be on call for residents if in need.
Maggie and Culture Secretary Anthony Turua said they planned to open the auditorium in Avarua as an evacuation centre for residents and resorts in an emergency.
In Fiji, a father and daughter were reportedly missing and 100 more were forced to seek shelter in evacuation centres after the cyclone passed over Fiji’s Lau group last night.
Flooding has also been reported in parts of Vanua Levu and Taveuni.
In Tuvalu, Semi Malachi, news director at Tuvalu’s broadcasting corporation, told Cook Islands News the capital of Funafuti was experiencing heavy rain and strong winds.
“The winds managed to uproot trees, there were broken branches on the main road, some trees were uprooted and a few houses were damaged, roof blown off. Low lying areas were flooded from big waves caused by tropical cyclone Tino.”
Few of the country's 14 islands were spared damage, said Sumeo Silu, the director of the country's disaster management office. Two hundred people had been evacuated on main island Funafuti alone, he said, as reports of significant damage to infrastructure came in from outer islands.
“It's quite devastated,” Silu stold RNZ.
For now, Arona Ngari is warning residents to stay away from the beach and to be cautious of high tides. He said the strong winds and high seas should settle by tomorrow evening or Monday.