Mercy dash for son to ravaged Fiji

By Don Farmer don.farmer@age.co.nz -
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Jenna and Inia Katia survey photographs of Cyclone Winston's path through Naqaidamu villlage, with daughter Honor. PHOTO/ANDREW BONALLACK
Jenna and Inia Katia survey photographs of Cyclone Winston's path through Naqaidamu villlage, with daughter Honor. PHOTO/ANDREW BONALLACK

A FIJIAN mother rescued from a terrifying ordeal at the height of Cyclone Winston's attack on her village is to be reunited with her son, who is making a mercy dash from his Masterton home on Sunday.

Inia Katia, who plays rep rugby for Wairarapa-Bush, is flying to Fiji to comfort his mum and to help out the village as much as he can.

Flattened buildings dot the landscape of Inia Katia's home village. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Flattened buildings dot the landscape of Inia Katia's home village. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

His mother Amelia is lucky to have lived through the battering the cyclone inflicted on Koro Island, among the hardest hit islands when the massive Winston made landfall in late February, wreaking havoc on the 14 village settlements including Naqaidamu, the home of the Katia family. Swamped by a tidal surge as she battled her way to the supposed safety of the village church as the storm tore roofs off houses and flattened them, Mrs Katia, 52, was swept away but managed to grab a breadfruit tree and wrap her arms around it.

There she stayed, alone, for two hours, holding on for grim life, knowing if she loosened her grip she would be swept out to sea and lost.

By chance a cousin of Inia's, who was swimming his way to the church, saw her hair floating Mum survived being swept away by cyclone above the water line as she leaned her head backwards, and came to her rescue.

Speaking from his Masterton home this week, Inia said his cousin had "grabbed her" and battled his way to the church with the woman in tow.

The respite was short-lived as the cyclone soon turned its attention to the church, tearing off the roof and forcing its evacuation.

"Everyone had to run uphill to the chief's house which was up high and turned out to be the only safe place in the village," Inia said.

Mrs Katia was so traumatised by her brush with death she completely lost the power of speech for a full half-day, only later being able to tell her family she had survived on pure adrenalin.

"If my cousin Joji hadn't seen her she would definitely have died," Inia said.

He is flying to Fiji on Sunday, where he will spend a month in the village with his parents, grandparents and other family.

"I am going to take clothes, medicines, shoes and blankets and in Suva I will buy cooking materials to take to the island," he said.

"They have no electricity on the island, only generators, and cook on little kerosene burners.".

Koro Island is an eight-hour boat ride from mainland Fiji.

Inia, and his wife Jenna -- who is a teacher at Wairarapa College -- said the people of Wairarapa have already stepped up to help out.

Jenna's parents, Karen and Bernard Lett, Inia's Gladstone rugby club coach Steve Thompson and his wife Cath and a host of others had "been simply amazing" and a Givealittle donation page has been set up.

Inia, 27, works in the forestry industry and has lived in New Zealand for six years.

He has played 47 games for Wairarapa-Bush as a specialist halfback and will be back in Wairarapa from his Fiji trip in time to play club and representative rugby.

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