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Indonesian girl swept away by 2004 tsunami is reunited with parents

Published on Aug 8, 2014 12:59 AM
 

BANDA ACEH (AFP) - An Indonesian girl swept away by the devastating 2004 tsunami has been reunited with her family a decade after she was given up for dead, her mother said Thursday.

"God has given us a miracle," said Jamaliah, the mother of Raudhatul Jannah, who went missing when she was just four years old.

Jannah and her seven-year-old brother were carried off when huge waves struck their home in West Aceh district on Dec 26, 2004.

Jamaliah, 42, and her husband survived the quake-triggered tsunami that killed tens of thousands in Aceh, on western Sumatra island, and had long ago given up hope of finding either of their children alive.

But in June, Jamaliah's brother spotted a girl in a village walking home from school who bore a striking resemblance to Jannah.

He made inquiries and found out that the girl had been caught up in the tsunami, and was swept from Aceh to some remote islands southwest of the province.

A fisherman rescued the girl, took her back to the mainland and handed her to his mother, who raised the youngster, according to Jamaliah, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

After the tip-off from her brother, Jamaliah and her husband, who moved to the neighbouring province of North Sumatra following the tsunami, went back to Aceh in late June to visit the girl, now aged 14. They discovered that she was indeed their daughter who went missing a decade earlier. 

"My husband and I are very happy," Jamaliah told AFP. "I am so grateful to God for reuniting us with our child after 10 years of being separated."

 ‘We felt the bond right away’ 

Her husband Rangkuti, 52, admitted he did not believe his daughter could be alive when his brother-in-law first spotted her. 

“There’s no way that’s my daughter, I thought, because it had already been 10 years,” he said, speaking in the capital of Aceh province, Banda Aceh, where the family had travelled to meet journalists.

But he went on: “When we saw her, we knew, we felt the bond right away.”

“If we need to do a DNA test, then we are prepared to, if people don’t believe us. But we are sure she is our daughter,” he added.

Jannah, who appeared shy and overwhelmed by the media attention, told reporters: “I am very happy I can be with my mother and father again.”

She also said she was happy to meet her younger brother, who was born after the tsunami.

Hopeful about finding son 

Jannah moved to North Sumatra this week to live with her parents, who say they are now hopeful they can find their son.

“We are very hopeful we can find her brother,” Rangkuti told reporters. “We have reported our son missing to the police so they can help us find out his whereabouts.”

Rangkuti believes his son Arif Pratama Rangkuti may still be on the Banyak Islands, an archipelago some 100 kilometres from the Aceh coast where the children ended up after being swept away.

For around a year, they lived with fishermen and their families on the islands. A fisherman wanted to adopt both of them, but ended up taking just Jannah as he did not think his family could provide for two more children.

His mother, Sarwani, was the one who mainly cared for Jannah when she was growing up.

Sarwani, who goes by one name, said Jannah’s adoptive family were delighted the teenager had found her parents.

“We are very happy they have reunited. She will always be part of our family, and actually, we now all feel like one big family,” she said.

The tsunami killed more than 170,000 people in Aceh, which was the worst-hit area, and tens of thousands more in other countries around the Indian Ocean.

"My heart beat so fast when I saw her. I hugged her and she hugged me back and felt so comfortable in my arms," she said, adding that she could not stop the "tears from flowing" during the emotional reunion.

Jannah, who was called Wenni by the elderly woman who raised her, returned to her hometown to be with her parents on Wednesday.

Her brother, Arif Pratama Rangkuti, also survived after being swept away to the same islands, Jamaliah said, but added his whereabouts were unknown.

The tsunami killed more than 170,000 people in Aceh, and tens of thousands of others in other countries around the Indian Ocean.

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