Over the course of five weeks – from the beginning of February to early March, 2005 – Cook Islanders felt as though they were in the middle of a war zone. But their fight was not against another nation, but the forces of nature in the shape of Cyclones Meena, Nancy, Olaf, Percy and Rae. Amazingly, and thankfully, no one was hurt.
Through pictures, reports from news services around the world and the local newspapers – the Cook Islands News and the Cook Islands Herald – a story unfolded of widespread damage, fear and a determination not to be beaten as the fury of winds and waves lashed the tiny, islands’ nation. Something of that story is told on these pages. All sources are acknowledged. Click here for a map from Cook Islands News which shows the course of the five cyclones (opens in new window).
Power supplies were cut, trees blown down and a lot of structural damage was caused. But the cyclone changed direction when it was just north of the capital island, Rarotonga. Winds reached up to 70 mph (100 kph), but this was less than half the strength which had first been forecast. A full emergency operation swung into force to protect islanders.
These dramatic pictures show the full force of the winds and waves on the waterfront in Avarua, Rarotonga. One report said the waves reached nearly a quarter of mile inland at one stage and Radio Australia reported they were nearly 30 feet (9 metres) high.
The famous Trader Jack’s restaurant on the water front in Avarua, Rarotonga was among nearly a dozen businesses which were all but destroyed by huge waves. The owner, Jack Cooper estimated it would cost about NZ$600,000 (UK£228,000, US$429,500) to repair. But Jack was back in business within a few days..even though it wasn’t quite what regulars were used to. He was using a shipping container as a makeshift bar. He called it “Meena and Leaner Jack in the Box”!
The full force of the damage only became apparent when the winds and waves receded. The New Zealand and Australian Governments offered special aid to the islands to help with a clean up and rebuilding programme.