Oceans and Seas

the work of author Michael Krieger

Covered by the Sea: Surviving a Hurricane – Part 1

Posted on Oct 5, 2016

Suwarrow Island

In a report to the director of the New Zealand Public Works Department, probably prepared late in 1942[1], the February hurricane that hit Suwarrow that year was rated one of the worst to hit the Cook Islands and French Polynesia in 111 years. The report referred to a French Meteorological Service publication, dated 1940, which stated that 24 hurricanes were experienced in the area in 109 years. Of those, one in 1906 recorded a barometric pressure as low as 953 mb, with seas coming up 24 feet on the island of Anaa. In the hurricane of February 6-12, 1935, the lowest pressure recorded was 981mb at Rarotonga. Probably the worst loss of life was on the island of Hikeru in a 1903 hurricane, which caused 517 fatalities.

In the Suwarrow hurricane the lowest barometric pressure recorded was 959 mb and waves reached a height of 23 feet. Jimmy Koteka, a survivor of this storm, had also experienced the 1906 hurricane in Papeete, Tahiti, and the one in 1903 on Hikeru. In his opinion, neither of those was as intense and destructive as the one to hit Suwarrow.

So the 13 people, including four small children, trapped on Suwarrow, were forced to endure one of the worst hurricanes of the century on a tiny, isolated island whose highest point was less than 14 feet above sea level.

Next (part  2) >>


(1) The document in the New Zealand government archives is undated.