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Hurricane Sally, “Worst in Memory,” Leaves Island Devastated

January 4, 1987

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (AP) _ Hurricane Sally blew out to sea Sunday after devastating this island capital with 30-foot waves and 90 mph winds in what Prime Minister Sir Tom Davis called its worst storm in living memory.

The hurricane left one out of nine residents homeless and Davis said it could take Rarotonga years to recover from the effects. He said an emergency condition existed and estimated damage at more than $25 million.

Davis said the storm destroyed or severely damaged the homes of about 1,000 people, wrecked Rarotonga’s main street, damaged resort hotels and ruined banana and coconut crops.

He said despite widespread destruction, no casualties were reported in this mainly Polynesian island group 1,900 miles northeast of Auckland, New Zealand. Rarotonga covers 26 square miles and is home to about 9,000 people. It is the largest of the Cook Islands, a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand. Almost 18,000 people live in the far-reaching chain.

There was no immediate report on the situation in outlying islands.

″It’s the worst hurricane in living memory,″ said Davis in a statement. He said the island group was suffering water shortages and power cuts and that the United States and France offered emergency aid.

Gusts of up to 125 mph were recorded at the height of the hurricane Saturday. The storm was last reported heading southeast at 9 mph and weakening.

″Roads, harbors and electricity are top priority. However, complete restoration may take years,″ said Davis.

Sally’s full fury was felt in Avarua, Rarotonga’s waterfront admistrative and commercial center. Police decribed it as a ″war zone.″ Winds, tides and huge waves severely damaged about 80 per cent of the town, with some buildings reduced to rubble, they said.

With normal drainage and sewage systems swamped, authorities advised residents to boil drinking water to guard against disease.

Emergency food supplies were being distributed around the capital and officials said resources were stretched to the limit.

Paul Cleveland, the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, said the United States would provide $25,000 in immediate aid.

Australia’s domestic Ansett Airlines flew a Boeing 767 to Rarotonga to evacuate up to 500 Australian and New Zealand tourists. Rarotonga International Airport reopened Sunday, but because navigational equipment had been knocked out by the storm, only daylight flights were permitted.

The South Pacific’s hurricane season runs from October through March.

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