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Sunday, 2nd October  2022 11:22:am
8th February:  Cylone Pat formed in an area between Manihiki in the Northern Cook Islands and Samoa on Monday, 8th February at 1 am GMT (3 pm on 7th February, Cook Islands time).  At that stage, it didn't even have a name, just a reference (09F).  Six hours later, it was moving very slowly towards Manihiki, but it was only just a cyclone at this stage with winds of around 74 kph (46 mph).  A gale warning was issued for the Northern group of islands and the Southern group, including Aitutaki, was put on alert and told to monitor Pat's progress carefully, as it was gathering strength. 
9th February:  At 0329 GMT (5.29 pm on 8th February on Aitutaki), the tropical cyclone centre in Fiji issued a cyclone alert for the Southern group.  Pat was still moving slowly, but inexorably, towards Aitutaki, and it was growing in strength.   Winds at its centre were measured at 101 kph (63mph). 
10th February:  At 0031 GMT (2.31 pm on 9th February in Aitutaki), Pat was 175 kms (109 miles) north north east of Aitutaki and it was bringing with it destructive winds gusting regularly to 166 kph (103 mph) and briefly to 185 kph (115 mph).  Aitutaki was put on full alert and a gale warning issued for Rarotonga and Palmerston.  Less than 12 hours later (around 0200 Cook Islands time on 10th February), the cyclone hit Aitutaki head on.
Around 2 am local time on 10th February, the stunningly beautiful island of Aitutaki was hit head on by winds gusting to more than 185kph (115mph).  And for the next three hours, Cyclone Pat - classified as category 3 on a scale where 5 is the most severe - tore roofs off homes, ripped schools apart, snapped power lines in two, devastated agriculture and vegetation and sent tons of debris flying into the air.  Damage was estimated at NZ$15 million (UK£7.1m, US$10.6m, 7.8m Euros).

80 people homeless    72 homes destroyed 317 homes severely damaged

hospital damagehospital damaged 2010Mayor Tai Herman describd it as "the worst cyclone in living memory" on the island.  "Houses were tied down with wires and ropes...but it wasn't any matter to the wind", he explained the next day as he surveyed the aftermath.  Remarkably and thankfully though, there were only nine minor injuries. 
The Cook Islands government declared a state of disaster on Aitutaki as an initial survey reported that 90% of homes were damaged or destroyed.  New Zealand forces were scrambled to help.  Air force Flight Lieutenant Matt Walls said the destruction seemed "unbelievable" when he first landed.  "Debris strewn throughout the island, houses completely destroyed, most with their roofs and walls gone,"   He and other troops were amazed there weren't any serious injuries.

Over the two weeks following the cyclone, nearly 50 members of the New Zealand army and air force were deployed on 'Operation Cook Islands Assist' to deliver emergency supplies and help with urgent repair work. 
A giant C130 Hercules transport plane shuttled around 89,000 lbs (43,600 kgs)  of cargo to Rarotonga and onward to Aitutaki.   The loads included a water purification plant, two bobcat diggers, emergency shelters and tents, water containers, food, blankets and electrical cabling.  And 12 army engineers helped to build emergency shelters, restore power and fresh drinking water and repair Araura School which is the largest on the island.  Squadron Leader Kavae Tamariki said being in such a devastated area was "pretty humbling".


It is a credit to all involved that signs of Cyclone Pat are barely visible today. The inhabitants of Aitutaki take everything in their stride. Buildings were repaired and gardens replanted. Cyclones are a fact of life in this part of the world and the infrastructure is built to cope.

Even Bill Tschan's Secret Garden shows little sign of the devistation - only the occassional tree stump to see if you look hard enough.

Aitutaki Lagoon