Mon, Jan 03, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Survivors tell their tales

ORAL HISTORY Feats of endurance along with heroic determination and unspeakable loss -- not to mention some amazing luck -- characterized tsunami experiences

, AP bureaus around the Indian Ocean

Karl Nilsson of Sweden displays a hand written sign asking for help in finding his family last Tuesday, in Phuket, Thailand.

PHOTO: AP

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."

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.

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.

Suppiah 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.

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