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Defence Force returns from Cook Islands assistance mission

2 March 2010

The New Zealand Defence Force left the Cook Islands yesterday after two weeks of providing disaster relief in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Pat which struck the tiny island with devastating effect just over two weeks ago. The effects of Cyclone Pat were compounded by Tropical Depression 11F and Tropical Cyclone Sarah.

Over 47 personnel from the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) and the NZ Army were deployed in support of "Operation Cook Island Assist" during the two week period.
 
An Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft from No. 40 Squadron arrived in Rarotonga during the late hours of 14 Feb 2010 and began airlift operations to Aitutaki on 15 Feb 2010. The Air Force completed four flights to Aitutaki delivering approximately 89,000lbs of aid to the island. The range of aid included a water purification plant, two bobcat diggers, emergency shelters and tents, water containers, food stuffs, blankets and electrical cabling.

"It was unbelievable when we saw the devastation to Aitutaki on our first flight in. Debris strewn throughout the island, houses completely destroyed, most with their roofs and walls gone" said the aircraft captain Flight Lieutenant Matt Walls.     

Twelve NZ Army Engineers were also deployed to Aitutaki. The Light Engineering team consisted of a range of tradesmen including electricians, a carpenter, plumber, heavy plant operators and field engineers. Their aim was to assist in the construction of emergency shelters, to assist local authorities with the restoration of power and fresh drinking water, in addition to completing essential repairs to the Araura School, the largest school on the island.

"The locals have been fantastic since we arrived. Even though they have been though the cyclone and most have lost everything they have been so welcoming.

“The main power and water supplies are now almost back to 100 percent. A container ship offloaded more food stuffs and people at least have a shelter above their heads. It was good to see they haven't waited for aid to come to them, they started the clean up the day after the cyclone hit and progress has been great" said SGT Glenn Abbot, NZ Army.

A second Hercules was sent to the Cook Islands after Tropical Depression 11F struck the island of Penrhyn in the northern Cook Islands group. While the damage was less significant than on Aitutaki, many homes lost their roofs including the school and some government buildings.

The Hercules completed one aid flight to Penrhyn with emergency shelters, water containers, kitchen kits and food stuffs for the island.  This Hercules also spent two hours in the air early Sunday morning during a Tsunami alert following the earthquake in Chile. The aircraft patrolled the coastline ready to provide early warning of any changes to the sea state.

"It’s been a pretty busy few weeks for the NZDF Team here in the Cooks. In addition to providing aid, the Aitutaki and Penrhyn teams have been on alert for both Cyclone Sarah and the Tsunami on Sunday.

“We've been working closely with the NZ High Commission, NZAID, the Red Cross and local agencies to focus our efforts and I believe we are now past the emergency relief phase. The Cook Islands government has already begun work on the long term recovery plan so it all bodes well," said Squadron Leader Kavae Tamariki, Senior National Officer for Operation Cook Island Assist.

The Defence Force personnel arrived back at Ohakea Air Force Base late last night.

ENDS

Contact: For further information contact; SQN LDR Kavae Tamariki 021 420 899.

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