Over the course of five weeks - from the beginning of February to early March, 2005 - Cook Islanders felt as though they were in the middle of a war zone. But their fight wasn't against another nation. It was against the brutal forces of nature in the shape of Cyclones Meena, Nancy, Olaf, Percy and Rae. Amazingly, and thankfully, no one was hurt.
Through pictures, reports from news services around the world and the local newspapers - Cook Islands News and the Cook Islands Herald - a story unfolded of widespread damage, fear and a determination not to be beaten as the fury of winds and waves lashed the tiny islands' nation. Something of that story is told on these pages with the help of pictures from those sources
As Meena approached the Islands, it neared super-cyclone status - the category reserved for storms with winds gusts greater than 280 kilometers per hour (173mph). But the cyclone changed direction when it was just north of the capital island, Rarotonga. Winds only reached up to 100kph (70mph). Despite that, damage was extensive. Power supplies were cut, trees blown down and a lot of structural damage was caused. A full emergency operation swung into force to protect islanders and visitors.
These dramatic pictures show the full force of the winds and waves on the waterfront in Avarua, Rarotonga. One report said the waves reached nearly a quarter of mile inland at one stage and Radio Australia reported they were nearly 9 metres (30 feet) high. The famous Trader Jack's restaurant on the water front in Avarua, Rarotonga was among nearly a dozen businesses which were all but destroyed by huge waves. The owner, Jack Cooper estimated it would cost about NZ$600,000 to repair. But Jack was back in business within a few days..even though it wasn't quite what regulars were used to. He was using a shipping container as a makeshift bar. He called it "Meena and Leaner Jack in the Box"! Repair work on Rarotonga alone cost more than NZ$7 million according to the Ministry of Works and the Cook Islands Investment Corporation. The wharf itself cost about NZ$200,000 to repair.
Pictures are courtesy of Leilani Sadaraka's uncle in Rarotonga, Cook Islands Herald and AFP
Nancy was the second cyclone in ten days and it brought winds estimated at up to 241 kms per hour (150 mph) which wreaked havoc across the Southern Group of islands. Clearing up was still going on after Cyclone Meena as it approached. And Cyclone Olaf was already strengenthing over the South Pacific
At Punanga Nui market on Rarotonga, two trees landed across the Moana Takeaway hut and a pareu hut
The CICC Church in Matavera lost its roof, as did the Seventh Day Adventist Church
With warnings about Cyclone Olaf on the way, repair work began quickly at Tereora College on Rarotonga
The main road in Avarua resembled a rubble-strewn river for days after the cyclone
ATIU was left without electricity after power lines were brought down and the power station was water damaged. The security doors at the power station were ripped off in the winds. Roofs were blown off houses and fallen trees littered the roads.
MANGAIA - the southern most island in the country - was pounded by heavy seas and hurricane force winds. Local residents were moved to evacuation centres.
On AITUTAKI, flooding affected the north eastern side of the island. About 250 people, including tourists, stayed in eight safety centres on the island while the cyclone raged.
On MAUKE, some residents in the makatea were without power when trees fell on supply lines
After the cyclone subsided, young islanders on Rarotonga found only fun in the waves. For others, it was time to start work clearing up even though a further cyclone warning had been issued. At the CITC Store in Avarua boarding was going up in preparation for Cyclone Olaf
Cyclone Olaf rolled in to the islands even before Cyclone Nancy had left. Meteorologists rated it category 4 to 5, on a scale where 5 is the most severe. American Samoa was devastated by it and the US President declared the affected islands there a disaster zone. But the Cooks fared far better. Again buildings were damaged, powers lines brought down and phone services knocked out. But, what was feared would be the worst cyclone so far, gradually became less severe and then turned out into the South Pacific, missing the capital island of Rarotonga by nearly 300 miles
But it wasn't over, particularly for islanders on remote Nassau and Pukapuka where an almost direct hit from Cyclone Percy damaged the Islands so much there was talk of abandoning them completely and moving the population to Rarotonga