Survival stories offer hope amid ongoing suffering
Published: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 12:45 a.m.
A little boy stuck in a treetop seeing his mother die before his eyes. A weeks-old baby found floating on a mattress in her family's restaurant. An 80-year-old Indian veteran of Britain's colonial army leading his family to safety on a 10-mile trek through a dense mountain forest. Survivors of Asia's killer waves faced heart-rending choices, terror and grief.
Their miraculous survival provides hope amid the carnage. Here are some tales of resilience:
Hanging on for life
NAGAPPATTINAM, India - Fisherman G.M. Veerappan and three of his children survived the tsunami by clinging to the remnants of his demolished home: a pole stuck in the ground.
"My eldest daughter climbed on my back. I took the younger two in my arms and climbed onto the lone pole that remained after our house was destroyed," he said.
As the water roared around him, Veerappan clung on desperately. But the fierce waves pounded against him, pummeling him with debris.
"There was no proper grip and I was slipping. After one hour, I lost all strength and dropped the two younger kids. I cried and cried, thinking I had killed my children," he said, shuddering at the memory.
After a few hours, rescuers reached Veerappan, and pulled the father and his 6-year-old daughter to safety as the waters began to recede.
When Veerappan came ashore, rescuers told him they had also found his two younger sons, ages 4 and 2.
Unconscious and barely breathing, they had been discovered at the water's edge, half buried under sludge.
The family, now reunited, is staying at a makeshift shelter at a marriage hall. His wife and two other children were safe at a relative's home.
"Nobody can explain how my children survived," he said. "I am still wondering why God chose to save my children when he chose to let so many other children die."
Leading the family to safety
PORT BLAIR, India - At 80 and with a career in the British colonial army and India's military behind him, Sheetla Prasad thought he was through with marches.
Then on Sunday, as Prasad was having tea with his wife, his tea cup began shaking - and the Asian tsunami sent him on a backbreaking trek for survival in India's remote Campbell Bay islands.
"It was like the old days, in the army - but my body was not the same. I thought I would die," said Prasad, a frail man with thick white stubble.
When he saw the sea roaring toward him, he shouted at his wife, two daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren to run uphill. He grabbed a machete and a few precious possessions and followed them up.
Within minutes, the waves had flattened his home, and he faced a stark choice: Die there with his family, or lead them through mountains covered in thick, dark foliage.
"I used my machete. I started hacking the bushes. I didn't even look back to see if my house was there or gone," he said at a relief camp in Port Blair, the territory's capital, his family at his side.
For two nights, the family took shelter in the huts of farm workers. On the third day, they dragged themselves through the forest, walking more than 10 miles with blistered feet.
They stopped only to have fruit plucked from trees, coconuts and water from natural sources.
On the third evening, they reached the docking site of a relief ship.
Watching from above
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - After the waves swept him up, 10-year-old Ardiyansah found himself on top of a tree.
His tale of survival is also one of heartbreak.
"The last thing I saw was my mother drowning while crying out my name, and I didn't even see my little sister," said the boy, who had bruises on his knees but was otherwise uninjured.
Ardiyansah spent two hours in the tree waiting for water to recede. A man arrived and helped him down.
The boy then started searching for his father, staying at the houses of strangers. After three days, they found each other.
The father said the boy had a vision of his mother after her death and couldn't sleep until a Quran was put under his pillow.
Ardiyansah comes from Lampu Daya village, the most populated housing area in Banda Aceh. Only about 20 percent of the people in the neighborhood survived.
Of the boy's 60 schoolmates, only four are still alive.
Miracle on a mattress
PENANG, Malaysia - When the waves hit, the baby girl's parents were flushed out of the restaurant they owned on the beach of this northwest Malaysian resort.
S. Tulasi, not yet a month old, had been taking a nap when the calamity struck. She was found hours later floating on a mattress inside the restaurant.
"We know this was a real miracle, thanks to God," said her mother, Annal Mary. "So many other children who died, but our baby was OK. She could have been swept out to the sea."
Mary and her husband found Tulasi when they swam back into the wrecked restaurant.
The parents, who have lived by the sea their entire lives, said they have no plans to move.
In search of a new family
PHUKET, Thailand - When the raging waters subsided, 7-year-old Karl Nilsson thought he had been transported to another city. And when he looked around, the parents and two brothers who had been with him moments before had vanished.
Now Kalle, as everyone calls him, is being cared for by another Swedish family. His parents and two brothers were among the more than 1,500 people killed when the tsunami lashed this resort.
"All night, when he heard the noise of a truck or car, Kalle woke up and asked me, 'Is it another wave coming?' " said Marie Guldstrand, a Swedish doctor who has been taking care of Kalle since she and her family found him in a Buddhist temple where survivors had sought shelter.
Kalle, wearing only underwear, was suffering from a broken collar bone, bruises and cuts. He screamed as a medical worker stitched cuts on his feet without an anesthetic.
When the tsunami struck, Kalle was in a hotel room with his two brothers - Olof, 5, and Vilgot, 3. His parents, Thomas and Asa, were outdoors.
Suddenly a torrent of water surged into the room.
"He told me, 'I was under the water but somehow I could breathe. I was just closing my eyes and moving with the waves. Then, suddenly the flood ended and I was in another city,' " Guldstrand said.
He wandered around by himself and was eventually helped by some Thais and a Swedish couple who took him to the temple.
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