Tsunami barely registers a ripple as affected residents take cover

Pukapuka residents heeding caution by taking refuge at the island’s cyclone shelter. PHOTO: KO TINGA. 21030416

Many heeded caution and moved inland to higher ground after a tsunami threat was issued by the Cook Islands Meteorological Service.

Most Cook Islands residents decided it was better to be safe
than sorry after a tsunami warning was issued to the country Thursday morning.

The warning came after an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.1
on the Richter scale was registered off the Kermadec Islands, which are located
northeast of New Zealand and southwest of the Cook Islands.

In response to the warning, an emergency meeting was
convened at the offices of Emergency Management Cook Islands with police,
meteorological and emergency services present to advise Government.

People in coastal areas on all islands in the country were
urged to take precaution and move inland or to higher ground after warnings of
waves potentially as high as one metre were expected just before noon.

The Met Service said the maximum impact of waves would be
felt at high tide in Rarotonga in the early afternoon.

By midday, police patrol boat Te Kukupa and numerous other
vessels had left Avatiu port as a precautionary measure and were seen off the
northern coast of Rarotonga.

In response to the warning issued by officials, schools were
ordered to close by the Ministry of Education as a precautionary measure. Many
businesses near coastal areas had also closed with some choosing to board up
their storefronts as a precautionary measure.

In Mangaia, one resident said sirens went off and people
were asked to move boats and canoes further inland.

Pukapuka resident and television reporter Ko Tinga said
residents promptly gathered at the island’s cyclone shelter after the warning
was issued.

“Those who received the news rushed to get their kids from
school, where school staff knew that there was a tsunami warning,” he said.

Tinga said kai that had been prepared for a Seventh Day Adventist
women’s prayer event earlier in the day was brought to the cyclone shelter to
feed residents.

In the end, only minor surges were reported in low-lying
coastal areas throughout the country, and by mid-afternoon Emergency Management
Cook Islands downgraded the warning.

Director Arona Ngari, of the Meteorological Service, said:
“I have to say that I think we carried out our due-diligence accordingly and
issued out an appropriate warning for the community.”

“It’s a way forward for us to say that these warnings are a
way to get the facts out. Social media has been useful and I’m happy with it.”

In the past, Cook Islands has emerged unscathed from
tsunamis that have affected neighbouring countries.

A tsunami struck the region in 2009, killing over 100 people
in Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga. At the time observers in the Cook Islands
reported larger waves than normal, but otherwise the event passed without

Another tsunami struck the region in 1960 after a massive
earthquake off the coast of Chile, generating waves over 10 metres in Hawaii
and responsible for deaths as far as Japan.

According to one report on the event published by the
Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, widespread damage was
reported in Samoa, however the tsunami was “of little consequence in the Cook
Islands except in harbours like Avarua and Avatiu on Rarotonga that represent
reef openings with shelving bottom.”

“No information was received from atolls of the Northern
Cook group, such as Penrhyn and Suwarrow; but it is likely that energy
penetrating reef passages would be dissipated in the large and deep lagoons,”
the report read.