Friday, February 26, 2010

Aitutaki Appeals

If you would like to make a donation towards rebuilding Aitutaki, here are some links:

Red Cross NZ: They have been on the ground since Cyclone Pat went through and I see this week they have started giving kids breakfast at school.

An Aitutaki community group in Rarotonga has initiated fundraising in CI communties in the Cooks, Australia and New Zealand. The Aitutaki Cyclone Appeal is planning a concert in Melbourne in April as a part of the fund raising effort.

If anyone is involved with their primary school libraries, I am collecting books for shipping to Aitutaki. I am so proud that WARKWORTH PRIMARY SCHOOL has donated 6 boxes of used library books that had been taken out of circulation. Thank you so very much. Between us, The Shahs and Pacific Resort Aitutaki will arrange for these to be shipped up to the island and installed in the libraries of the schools there. If you think you can help us with the library book appeal, please send me an e-mail.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

2 Weeks After Pat

A week away from Aitutaki and now when I think of the island I picture blue waters and whi

te sands, not sadness and destruction. It is difficult not to feel guilty that we have been able to escape the hardships on the island, but it is lovely to be in New Zealand with family and friends .

As the children and I left Rarotonga we saw the NZ Airforce Hercules land. It did half-a-dozen trips between Raro and Aitutaki carrying bob-cats, tents, water units and all sorts of things that were needed during the 5 days it took to arrive. To be fair, I understand that the plane had been waiting on standby in NZ all that time, waiting for a request for assistance from the Cook Islands. After waiting for 3 days without any indication when aid would arrive (while goverment officials did assessments) the tourism operators drafted a letter requesting specific requirements for assistance for the island. When that was hand delivered from Aitutaki to the NZ High Commission in Raro, it was devastating to be told that it was the first actual request for aid.

News from Aitutaki at the end of week 2 is that the kid's school has been condemmed, which is very sad. Classes are being held in the homes of two teachers, though I don't know what resources they might be using as it didn't look like much survived in the classrooms. There are tents appearing in gardens but power supply is still a major issue. Excellent news - the Aitutaki Game Fishing Club has re-opened and a big night is planned for tonight (Wed) which will coincide with Michael's farewell! All of the resorts have reopened, and I took 6 kids out on the lagoon with Bishops Cruises the day before we left and was amazed to see how well everything survived on the lagoon and One Foot Island. On the down side, the island had run out of petrol due to the number of generators being run - the ship should be arriving any time now with new supplies.
It was good to see that NZ has not forgotten us - there was a good item on Aitutaki on TV ONE news tonight. Unfortunately we heard from Mayor Tango that the island is still waiting for a committment from the Cook Islands government on money for rebuilding - and absolute outrage.
One last pic - Sunset the night after Pat left.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cyclone Pat is a Very Nasty Lady

7am, 2.5 hours after the eye has passed at Rapae Bay, Amuri Village

The bar at Pacific Resort Aitutaki (under the sand is stairs and paving!)

(L) Amuri Village destruction; (R) Neibaa store in Vaepae Village

(L) Presbyterian Church in Vaepae; (R) Teka'aroa SDA School

Teka'aroa SDA School

A quick installment from poor old Aitutaki. First and foremost we are safe and sound, the house and resort are structurally sound and most importantly no lives were lost. Once you have looked at the total devastation around our beautiful island you can appreciate that last statement with wonder and awe. We were lucky enough to be in one of the safest positions on the island. We were exposed to all of the Southerlies before the eye, but protected from the early Easterlies and the North winds after the eye passed. Additionally we are connected to the resort generator so didn’t lose the light or power and until 2am when the internet went out, we were able to keep and eye on updates and the wind strength at the airport. Incidentally, when we lost our connection at 2am, the top gust was 70 knot, and that was 2 hours before the eye moved over the island (between 4.00am and 4.45am).

Michael was at the resort between 1am and 4am as trees fell all around - he ended the day on Wednesday night having works 38 hours straight. The kids and I were in our bed, with the lights on and audio books playing – loudly. The sound of the wind, even with everything shut up, was incredibly loud. It was like standing beside a railway while a freight train screams past, except that it didn’t stop for 9 hours. The amount of adrenaline going through my body for such a prolonged period made me feel sick. Gusts got stronger and stronger, and literally slammed against the side of the house. Palm tree leaves filled the stairway and I literally watched out the window as a hot water heater flew off the neighboring roof. Daylight revealed three trees that had fallen away from the house, mattresses floating in the tide and a view out of the property towards the village that didn’t exist before. The little pool managed to catch 2 boogie boards in it – the third could be anywhere.

It was bad enough seeing the mess at the resort, where nearly all the big trees have fallen or had branches ripped off, blocking all paths and entry to several rooms. Venturing around the island is heart breaking. The kid’s school, Teka'aroa SDA, doesn’t exist anymore. ‘My’ preschool classroom consists of a blackboard on the end wall, upon which someone has written ‘God Is Great’. The library, and 3 classes, plus the admin office with all computers etc have been flattened. Bailey’s class block of 3 rooms is standing but the roof is in the banana plantation across the road. The college has lost several class rooms and the roof to many other classes. I had to cry. The houses constructed out of coral concrete, which is a lot of the old family homes, have lost walls and roofs. Fibro houses have had mixed fortunes, mostly bad. Concrete houses have done well, and western style houses the best. Power lines and phone lines lie all over the roads. There are some places with underground power supplies which have been reconnected, but issues with drinking water and food safety affect almost everyone and majority of the island is in darkness.

While people were emerging with smiles yesterday morning, today the enormity of the task ahead has robbed the smiles from many faces. Where do we start seems to be a common thought, and what outsiders may not realize is that it isn’t simply a task of rebuilding – there are no building supplies on the island and no skilled staff. There is no money to replace homes that have been built by and lived in for generations. Trees are down everywhere – I heard an estimate of 18mths before any new coconuts can be harvested, which is a major issue for feeding people and stock (many pigs survive on coconut flesh). Many family plantations have huge damage, fruit trees have been stripped or felled.

Regular flights have returned today. The resort is accepting guests. The resort cleanup should be mostly done within a week or two, by which time we will have earned our holiday. I can only hope the Aitutaki spirit will remain undaunted, and the easy option of just leaving will not be too high in people’s minds. The lagoon looks lovely today.

Kia Manuia

Monday, February 1, 2010

Here comes (TC) Oli

Here we go again. You know, I finally got Sienna off to pre-school today, by herself for the first time, and had the luxury of 2 childless hours. After school was cancelled on Thursday and Friday for TC Nisha, then everyone got housebound with the torrential rain, we were all looking forward to a nice quiet week, with all children being someone else's responsibility.

(Above) The view of the surf conditions from the deck of our house at Rapae Bay.
In truth, Nisha got downgraded to a tropical depression just as it reached our door on Friday night and we got off easily with a bit of surf (!) in our normally placid lagoon, a dumping of coral on the beach, filled up water tanks, and a 'fresh' wind to keep the temperatures down. But everyone had battened down the hatches, taken all the boats out of the harbour and moved the shipping containers off the wharf and onto the main road to town (Arutanga).

(Left) Boats and containers relocated from the wharf; (Right) Michael and Winton assessing the cleanup job at Pacific Resort Aitutaki
Then along comes Monday and news of Tropical Cyclone Oli sticking a banana bend in his path and sneaking down on us from the north. Ah well, at least I haven't put all the bikes and furniture back outside yet.