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Heartwarming stories of survival and generosity among tsunami chaos

30 December 2004 - Khaleej Times

HONG KONG - A little girl clinging to a broken door for two days in the Indian Ocean, people offering dazed strangers comfort and the shirts off their backs.

Amid the chaos and grief surrounding the tsunami horror wrought on Asia have emerged some remarkable tales of survival, acts of courage and heartwarming generosity.

The devastating consequences of a disaster that has left tens of thousands dead and destruction on a scale rarely seen before have also brought out the worst of the human spirit, with reports of looting, pillaging and theft.

But these isolated incidents in Thailand and Indonesia are overwhelmed by examples of battling the odds and ordinary people helping their fellow man.

Miracles in midst of disaster

Throughout the hardest-hit countries of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India, people have come forward to help, donating clothes and food while tending the wounded.

Others set about the more grisly task of disposing of the bloated corpses that litter beaches and streets and threaten public health.

I heard that they needed some help, so I came, explained Sangitan Senaphan, a 20-year-old volunteer at a hospital in Phuket, Thailand.

The warm-hearted nature of Thai people was apparent across the paradise island. I just want to help people, said hotelier Khun Wan who was offering free food and accommodation to foreign tourists struggling to cope in the aftermath of the tragedy.

As people tried to make sense of what had happened, to come to terms with livelihoods lost and family members dead or missing, chinks of light shone through the gloom.

In one rare tale of survival after Sundays devastating tidal waves, badly bruised 13-year-old Meghna Rajshekhar was found alive after floating at sea on a door for two days.

Meghna was discovered on Tuesday walking in a daze along a beach after clinging to the piece of wood when giant waves swept her, her family and dozens of others off the Indian Oceans Car Nicobar Island.

This was a miracle in the midst of the disaster the tsunami wrought, the commander of the air base station on Nicobar V.V. Bandhopadhyay said.

In Malaysia, which itself miraculously survived the worst of the waves, emerged the story of a 20-day-old baby sleeping alone on a mattress floating to safety as her room in Penang was engulfed by swirling waters.

Personal touches of humanity

Then there were the smaller, more personal touches of humanity: families opening their homes to bewildered survivors, strangers offering the shirts off their backs to foreigners in swimwear left with nothing but their lives.

Dutchwoman Irene Nicastro, who was forced to flee empty-handed as her hotel room in Galle in southern Sri Lanka filled with water, was touched by the generosity shown to her by locals.

Despite their own losses, they took care of us, she said, and pledged to raise money to help Sri Lankans cope with their losses when she gets to her more wealthier lifestyle.

This is the time to help these people who are so good and strong, truly strong, she said.

The resolve of the continents people was starkly highlighted by countless accounts of battling the odds, and winning.

Retired Sri Lankan army major general Krishan de Silva and his elderly mother, who saw their homes wiped out, summed up the attitude of many.

It is OK. We just dont have a place to stay, the mother said philosophically as she strode into town clutching a photograph of her daughter and some saucepans.

And then there was Dharamaraja, just 15 but the eldest of four siblings, who survived after the tsunami killed their father; mother, grandmother and two sisters aged three and two in their southern Indian fishing village.

He led his brothers and sisters, aged 13, 10 and eight, to safety before leaving them to discover the bodies of his parents, grandmother and two young sisters in a hospital morgue.

He buried them himself near their village, sparing his frightened brothers and sister the trauma.

He says he has buried them near our village. I will go and see the grave, Maghadevi, 13, sobbed.

Notable philanthropic gestures

In Indonesia, policeman Supardi Bin Kasdi turned up in Banda Aceh on Wednesday weather-beaten and shattered after a perilous five-hour journey through coprse-strewn waters in a small motorboat to bring word of desperate survivors in his village Calang.

When I left them they only had enough food for one day. I told my men to try to sustain themselves by eating coconuts, but they will only last for one day, the 43-year-old, exhausted and shaking with fear, told AFP.

While governments around the world have pledged millions of dollars in aid, there have also been some notable philanthropic gestures to the cause, as the world collectively reels at the scale of the catastrophe.

The most high profile has been a 3.1 million dollar donation from Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing.

Compared to the massive destruction caused by this earthquake, our effort is but a little one, he said in a statement.

In fact, Hong Kongs glitterati have proved to be some of the most generous around with the likes of movie idols Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-fat and a group of other stars getting together to pledge 200,000 US dollars.

Elsewhere, Australias cricketers donated their winning prize money from the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan and said they had other fund-raising activities in mind.


Active Member
This only goes to show that all is not lost and the saying "Man, God's biggest mistake" is selectively true. If "Sweet are the fruits of adversity", this is one of them. A most healthy "trend" which should find many a friend apart from the one mentioned above.

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