6 Feb 2024

Reports of flooding, no power - 'Cook Islands prepared' for Cyclone Nat, disaster office says

8:43 pm on 6 February 2024
Tropical Cyclone Nat track map as at 1.06pm Fiji time.

Tropical Cyclone Nat track map as at 1.06pm Fiji time. Photo: Fiji Meteorological Service

Tropical Cyclone Nat is passing through the Cook Islands, with strong winds and heavy swell warnings in place for the southern group of islands.

The Fiji Meteorological Service said a strong wind warning remains in force for land areas and waters of Aitutaki and Ma'uke Islands, which are expected to receive the brunt of the category 1 system.

It said the cyclone is moving east-southeast at about 15 knots.

It said on its current path, it is expected to be 180km northeast of Aitutaki and 200km north of Ma'uke at 2am local time, and about 180km northwest of Ma'uke island at 2pm local time.

Fiji Meteorological Service tropical cyclone forecaster Sakeasi Waibuta said cyclone Nat is expected to reach the high end of category 1 - the weakest cyclone category.

"It's not showing that it will intensify into category 2," he said.

Waibuta said the islands will experience strong winds of 55 kp/h and gusts of about 80km/h.

He said the strongest average winds close to the centre of the storm offshore would be about 85 km/h with gusts of 120 km/h.

Rough conditions

Storm surges in the northern group have caused flooding at one school early on Monday morning local time (Tuesday NZ time)

Apii Tetautua students on Penrhyn Island were relocated to their local cyclone shelter as the ocean began to creep into the school grounds.

The island's executive officer Puna Vano said the island has experienced rough conditions in the four days leading up to this morning's flooding.

"It caused sea flooding around the school area. It's a low-lying area, the power went off, maybe the seawater got into the mains and so no power for the school," he said.

Vano said the rough weather is easing as the cyclone moves further south-east.

He said the ocean remains choppy with high swells and storm surges still forecast.

The situation is being closely monitored by the Cook Islands Met Service.

They are advising the public to stay away from coastal areas as the cyclone passes over the top of the southern group cluster of islands.

Operations officer Bates Manea said flooding is expected in low lying areas.

"We will expect those in the coastal areas to get some coastal inundation and also we are expecting heavy swells and very rough seas," Manea said.

"Our recommendation is safety first always, especially te au mapu aere, don't go swimming at this time."

The cyclone is expected to bring isolated damage to trees or homes with light materials.

'Always prepared'

Emergency Management Cook Islands director John Strickland says the country is prepared, nevertheless.

"The Cook Islands always resilient, we are always prepared, as we speak messages and normal communications through all the Pa Enua (outer islands) is being relayed keeping everybody updated, the community and all so we are very much prepared," Strickland said.

Ma'uke's executive officer Royston Jones said the islands prepare for storms ahead of the cyclone season every year.

"We have already done all our preparations, we are just making sure all our drains and culverts are clear so that any heavy rain less risk of flooding," Jones said.

"Down the harbour we have moved everything up to higher ground for the expected sea surge, we are prepared."