4 Feb 2005

Cooks register small vessels as cyclone approaches

2:36 pm on 4 February 2005

Police in the Cook Islands say they've registered more than half of the country's small boats as forecasters warn Tropical Cyclone Meena is heading there.

Cyclone Meena, with winds of more than 90 kilometres an hour, is moving slowly east of American Samoa, where all schools are closed and internal flights grounded.

Forecasters say the cyclone is rapidly intensifying and heading south-east towards the northern islands of the Cook Islands' southern group.

The Deputy Police Commissioner, Maara Tetava, says officers have counted scores of small boats as a precautionary measure.

"We're onto it already. We've got the register just about half-complete now. We have police officers on each island, and they have been tasked to collect that information for us."

Deputy Commissioner Tetava says residents are also being warned to stow torches, radios, batteries and dry food.

Twenty people drowned when Cyclone Martin struck Manihiki in 1997.

Officials based in Rarotonga at the time refused Royal New Zealand Air Force rescue missions saying the boats were wooden and couldn't be picked up by radar.

Four days later four survivors turned up on Rakahanga Atoll in an aluminium dinghy.