Tue, Dec 30, 2014 - Page 9 News List

A decade after tsunami, Indonesian family reborn

The devastation caused by the disaster 10 years ago saw about 230,000 people killed in 14 nations, but for one family a miracle has afforded them a second chance

By Margie Mason  /  AP, MEULABOH, Indonesia

Illustration: Yusha

It all started with a dream that led to a chance meeting: a girl who had been swept away by the Indian Ocean tsunami a decade ago.

For three nights, the child’s uncle said she visited him in his sleep. When he told the girl’s mother, Jamaliah, it was hard to believe at first. The daughter was only four when a towering wave ripped her away with her seven-year-old brother, clinging to a board.

However, the mother had always been convinced both children were still out there and that the family would be reunited. Like most Muslims in this part of Indonesia, she also believed that sometimes God whispers answers to prayers at night.

Soon after the dream, the uncle ran into a 14-year-old orphan girl who had survived the disaster and washed up on a remote island with her older brother. She said they had stayed alive by riding a slab of wood.

The odds were impossible, Jamaliah reminded herself. Too much time had passed. The island was so far away.

However, after the uncle sent a photo of the girl, the mother became convinced God was giving their family the second chance longed for by so many parents who had lost children in the disaster.

“I said: ‘I’m sure that’s my daughter.’ I felt the connection in my womb,” she said.

A month later, Jamaliah had the same feeling. This time, after hearing that a 17-year-old homeless boy calling her “Mom” had also been found. Was it real, or all just a dream?

It was just before 8am on Dec. 26, 2004. The sky was blue, and Jamaliah, who uses only one name, was hanging clothes on the line while her three kids were inside watching television on a sleepy Sunday.

In a second, everything changed.

The earth shook so hard, Jamaliah thought it would never stop. Her husband, Septi Rangkuti, and the children ran outside to the street where their little concrete row house sat about 500m from the sea. After minutes of violent rumbling, they were stunned and confused by the sheer power of the magnitude 9.1 earthquake.

Jamaliah then heard people screaming: “The water is coming. The water is coming.”

The family of five leaped onto their motorbike and made it as far as the market, but they could not outrun the wall of black water. Jamaliah and her eight-year-old son were pulled away by the wave. As they somersaulted in the darkness, the mother was somehow able to hold onto his hand while grabbing onto a pole. Rangkuti managed to keep hold of his seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter long enough to put them on top of a large floating board. He held on as long as he could, but when the water sucked back to the sea, his fingers slipped. The last thing he remembers is his two little ones being dragged away from him by the angry torrent. Hours later, Jamaliah and their oldest son found Rangkuti wandering on a street. His clothes were ripped and he was bleeding.

One look at his empty eyes and she knew the kids were gone.

The calamity was so vast, it remains hard for those who survived to understand. One of the largest earthquakes ever recorded forced the Indian Ocean to heave gigantic waves at jetliner speeds into Indonesia’s westernmost coast. About 230,000 people in 14 nations were killed, with the province of Aceh logging nearly three-quarters of the deaths. About 37,000 bodies were never recovered and presumed swept out to sea — the majority women and children.

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