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Book tells cyclone survival stories

Book tells cyclone survival stories

On a Saturday evening in 1997, waves as tall as coconut trees crashed over the sea-level atoll of Manihiki – a five-kilometre strip of land in the far northern reaches of the Cook Islands, separated from the country’s capital by more than than 1000 kilometres. Cyclone Martin stole 19 lives and irreversibly changed hundreds more. It remains the most tragic natural disaster in the recorded history of the Cook Islands, but beyond the tight circle of the Manihiki community, few know what happened that night.

Mātini, a book due for release July 2, weaves incredible tales of survival and courage – miraculous stories about people clinging to coconut trees, spending three days at sea, reaching other islands using only the sea and sky as guides – into a gripping narrative. Mātini explores what went wrong, and documentslessons the Cook Islands and the greater South Pacific region can learn from, as scientists are predicting an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones due to climate change.

In 2014, a group of cyclone survivors formed the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust with the aim of commissioning a book about the cyclone and how deeply it impacted their island and people. They approached Cook Islands News, entering into a partnership agreement with publisher John Woods that would carry Mātini from concept to completion.

Mātini tells the stories of Cyclone Martin through the voices of the people who were there. Journalist Rachel Reeves, formerly of Cook Islands News, interviewed nearly 150 people – survivors, weather experts, and responders who remember Cyclone Martin as the most tragic event of their careers.

Survivors, many of whom had never opened up about the traumatic cyclone, told their stories for posterity’s sake. They shared in order to warn future generations about the power of weather, and also because book royalties will go not to the author but to Manihiki via the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust.

“That’s good to get everybody’s story,” said Papapia Taraeka, the oldest resident of Tauhunu village. “ I was wishing that one day somebody will come up and tell this story of Martin.”

Mātini is raw, emotional, and real. It weaves together gripping tales of survival – incredible tales of people clinging to coconut trees, being washed out to sea for days, using the sea and the sky to find their way back to land. Mātini also chronicles a bungled bureaucratic response, one that involved communication breakdowns, inexplicable delays in search and rescue, and an autocratic approach to reconstructing an entire island. The book highlights the methods people used to survive – methods passed down from their forebears, methods that succeed where modern forms of disaster management may fail.

Mātini is a book that will break your heart, but will also restore your hope and faith in the human spirit and inspire in you a deep respect for the island people.

“It is a beautifully written book,” says Niki Rattle, Speaker of the Cook Islands Parliament, who went home to Manihiki after Cyclone Martin to nurse her people. “You will not be able to resist it as the human side of disasters is so well told from the affected people and to not read it would be to deny yourself an incredible experience.”


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