Friday 26 March 2010

Waste not, want not

Since it's now redundant for the Herald's story, here's the bit about the cyclone:

>>> Two weeks on from Cyclone Pat, John the waiter is still shell-shocked. “Man, I ran to my neighbour’s place and watched my house fall to bits. I saw my fridge blow away.” He gazes across the infinity pool that’s shimmering pink in the sunset, and shakes his head in disbelief.

In the gathering dusk, it is hard to believe that early on 10 February, 100-knot winds ripped through Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, best known for its glorious lagoon and palm-fringed pink sand motus. Here at Pacific Resort the beach is tidily raked, the coconut trees are spot-lit, and up in the open-sided restaurant with its view over the reef, other guests are happily dithering between the duck and the flying fish.

Those lights out beyond the reef, though, belong to a ship that’s been patiently circling for the last three days — the lagoon too shallow for it to enter, the sea outside too deep to anchor — while a barge putters back and forth ferrying containers of building materials to the wharf at Arutanga, the island’s biggest village. There, at SpiderCo, you can buy internet time, a plasma TV, clip-boards, peanut butter and rum but, although fat bags of nails sit in rows next to the loo paper, they’re all out of four by twos. From the look of things next morning, it’s no wonder.

The resorts, well-built and maintained, have come through the cyclone largely undamaged, apart from their battered gardens; but many of the locals’ houses have boarded-up windows. Bright blue tarpaulins flap on their roofs, the missing sheets of corrugated iron wrapped around nearby tree trunks. Some have fared even worse: on a walk into Arutanga, we pass a cottage made of cemented coral which has crumbled under the force of the winds, leaving stumps of walls surrounded by rubble; there’s no sign of its roof. Across the road, in the middle of a neat goat-trimmed lawn, a weatherboard house has collapsed, its front blown inwards, the roof flat on top of it all, squashing the contents which poke out the sides like a salad sandwich. It looks to us like a write-off, but the little old man beside it loading his wheelbarrow with broken louvres sees things differently. “It’s not so bad,” he says, grinning cheerfully. “I just need to stand the front up and lift the roof on again. I can use the crane.”

That would be the crane at the wharf, currently dangling containers over the clear, blue-tinted water of the harbour, where a shoal of small flying fish skitters over the surface. There’s a tangle of twisted roofing iron behind the nearby police station, and stray sheets still dangling from the rafters are squealing and groaning in the sea-breeze. It looks violent and dramatic, but behind it all colourful pareus flutter on a rack outside a souvenir shop, a hen with half a dozen peeping chicks scratches in the grass, and a tardy schoolgirl, neatly-uniformed, is hurrying up the street, back to lessons for the first time since the cyclone. A man buzzes past on his scooter with a large hammer and a determined expression: life is returning to normal on the island...


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