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Young mum recovers from Cyclone Pat

Friday 26 February 2010 | Published in Regional


It may be months before 30-year-old Aitutakian Eteta Lockington can walk again after seriously injuring her foot during Cyclone Pat two weeks ago.

She is due to be discharged from Rarotonga Hospital today after undergoing surgery on her foot on Tuesday.

“I’m just glad I’m still here and it’s all thanks to the Good Lord,” she says.

Tears still come to Eteta’s eyes when she recalls what happened to her rented three bedroom home in Amuri in the worst hours of the cyclone on February 10.

Eteta lives with her partner, power station manager Oropai Rouru, and their two daughters, Nivar, 4 and Laura, 16 months.

She says even in the chaos of the cyclone – as the strong winds ripped off the roof of the old limestone house, the walls began to cave in and household possessions were blown away – her children were her only concern.

“I was just afraid for my kids.”

Eteta says thinking of her daughter Nivar during the cyclone when debris was flying toward her was the hardest moment of the ordeal.

“I’d nearly lost her once when she was almost two. She was swimming with her cousins and almost drowned. I couldn’t let anything happen to her now.”

From her hospital bed yesterday, Eteta described what her family experienced during the cyclone.

“It was about 2am and the girls and I were in the bedroom when my partner called out that he needed help with the (front) door. The door was coming off and he was trying to nail it shut. I went to help him. The power had already gone out about half an hour before, so Nivar held a torch while we worked on the door. We had just finished that and were on our way back to the room where Laura was sleeping when the roof just blew off.

“My first instinct was to run to my daughter (Nivar) who was about two metres away from me. As I headed towards her the fridge blew past me – my partner said it just missed me – I still have the scratches and bruises where it hit me in the back.”

Eteta says she must have been knocked down because the next thing she remembers is getting up again.

“My foot was numb. I knew I had cut it but I didn’t care, I ran. I grabbed my daughter, ran to the room and picked up Laura too. Me and my partner got out of the house and the walls collapsed on the bed as we left,” she recalls.

With only the clothes on their back, Eteta and Oropai raced to the closest pick up truck parked outside – its windscreen was smashed and a large piece of limestone wall had fallen on it.

“We got into the second pick up. Our neighbours from next door had run over to see if they could shelter at our house – theirs had been damaged like ours. We all got in the pick up and my partner drove us to Amuri Hall.”

She says on the way they could see power lines whipping around and roofing iron flying across their path.

Eteta looked down at the gash in her foot for the first time as they pulled up to the hall where another family had also come to shelter.

“I thought ‘I just hope we can get to hospital soon’ because there was a lot of blood.”

Tying a pareu around the foot and later a ripped up sheet, the family waited until the sun came up to drive to the hospital. Eteta, who has worked at the Aitutaki hospital pharmacy and lab for the last ten years, says she never expected to end up in hospital as the first injured patient following the cyclone.

Six stitches and several bandages later, she left hospital and had been staying at her parent’s home until last Friday when she was sent to Rarotonga for further treatment.

Last Friday health minister Apii Piho and health secretary Tupou Faireka saw Eteta during their visit to Aitutaki.

Piho told CI News she was in obvious pain and needed to get the foot looked at in Rarotonga.

The ministry of health paid for her and baby Laura to fly over for the surgery.

“They repaired three of my tendons because I had cut them – this was why I couldn’t feel or move my toes.”

She will likely stay in Rarotonga for another week before going back to Aitutaki, and for at least the next month she will have to use crutches.

Eteta says she has been warned she may not be able to walk as well as she used to in future.

A keen sportswoman, Eteta enjoys netball and volleyball, so she is worried that her injury may prevent her from playing again.

Her mum Josephine, who has been by her side this week, suggests Eteta could always take up golf or paddling.

“She could go paddling and maybe get a tan then,” says Josephine nudging her daughter with a smile.

Eteta is determined she will not only play sports again, but that she and Oropai will build their own home as planned this year. And she is confident that over time she and the island she’s lived on all her life will make a full recovery.