Couple struggle with daughters' loss

By Jared Savage

Lynne and Kerry Martin (above) lost their daughters Petria (left) and Rebecca in the tsunami. Photo / Christine Cornege
Lynne and Kerry Martin (above) lost their daughters Petria (left) and Rebecca in the tsunami. Photo / Christine Cornege

Kerry and Lynne Martin are unsure about swimming in Samoa.

The Matamata couple lost their daughters Rebecca, 24, and Petria, 22, in the tsunami, and today they will return to Lalomanu Beach to mark the anniversary of their deaths.

But taking a dip in the turquoise waters may be a step too far.

Last summer, the Martins went to Whangamata for their annual holidays and struggled to go anywhere near the sea.

"Eventually we did and it was a very emotional first time back in the water," said Mr Martin.

"But we've come to understand that the tsunami is a result of an earthquake, not the sea itself. And as we've seen in Christchurch, no one can control that.

"It will be good to be in Samoa. Whether we get around to having a swim or not, I'm not sure."

The Martin sisters were staying at the Taufua Beach Fales with their cousin Jodi McGlashan and friend Olivia Loeffen when the waves came on September 29.

Mr and Mrs Martin have kept in touch with the Taufua family, who lost 14 close relatives, and will attend a memorial service at the official reopening of the beach fale resort.

After a busy year on their 55ha farm, the Martins are returning to Samoa for the first time since bringing back the bodies of their daughters.

"We went down to the beach," said Mr Martin, "and it was just like, 'Gee'."

Added his wife: "When we saw the devastation ... It's just a miracle that anyone survived, really."

Knowing that Rebecca and Petria were victims of nature, with no one to blame, has helped their parents come to grips with their loss.

"It's every parent's worst nightmare," said Mr Martin, "but we're lucky in a way. There's no blame. The girls weren't in a car accident, or anything like that.

"We haven't had those really horrible feelings and emotions to deal with. We've been able to concentrate on their memories and what good kids they were."

Their daughters were excited to be going on holiday in Samoa and Mr and Mrs Martin were at first unperturbed when they heard the tsunami news on the radio in their cowshed.

"We came home to turn on the TV and there were a few reports," said Mr Martin. "But we had no idea where they were and we thought, 'No, they'll be fine'. Then we had a phone call from the resort and it's what he didn't tell me that told me more than what he did.

"The fact that Olivia and Jodi had survived but they had lost track of Bec and Petria. The way he was telling me, we knew it wasn't good news."

That night, Ross Ardern, the Samoan liaison officer for the New Zealand police, called to say searchers had found a body.

"He asked whether there were any characteristics to identify the girls," said Mr Martin. "It was Petria. She had got this dragon-type Gothic tattoo, with this dragon tail that went down to her bum.

"She sort of kept it quiet for about six months; it was a family joke for a while," he laughed.

By the time Mr and Mrs Martin arrived in Samoa, police had also found Rebecca.

"It was a relief they found her. Those were the worst days, when they hadn't been found," said Mr Martin.

"We were lucky to get them home and we had a great send-off for them. Since then, it's been one day at a time."

While in Samoa, the Martins were overwhelmed by the love and support of the Samoan community who themselves had lost so much.

"The Samoan people are just so lovely," said Mrs Martin. "I guess they had seen us on TV, but we were in the markets one day and this lady just came over and hugged me."

Wondering what happened to their daughters, the Martins eventually learned that Rebecca and Petria "didn't have a chance".

The sisters and their two friends were sleeping in a beach fale closest to the water and didn't wake up when the earthquake hit, because the sand mostly absorbed the vibrations.

Once other people began shouting "tsunami", the four girls started running.

While other tourists and locals managed to clamber up a steep hill to safety, the girls managed only to get across the road and cling to the posts of a communal fale before the water hit.

Jodi and Olivia survived. Petria and Rebecca didn't.

"Seeing how far it was from the beach to the hill, if you didn't get a headstart you didn't have a chance," said Mr Martin.

The past year has been difficult for the close-knit family, with the birth of a first grandchild to one of their two surviving daughters a bright spot.

But Mr and Mrs Martin have struggled as the anniversary has got closer. "This month has been a lot harder than we thought. We are really thankful for what we do still have," said Mr Martin.

"It makes you realise the important things in life. You have no idea what the script is going to be. It's hard to figure out 'Why them?' but we don't really dwell on it because it won't change anything.

"And in time, a long time, I think it will get better.

"We're never going to forget them; we talk about them all the time. The girls will grow old with the rest of us."

- NZ Herald

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