Girl swept away by 2004 tsunami weeps after reunion with family
msnbc.com staff and news services
A girl who was swept away in the Indian Ocean tsunami seven years ago said Friday that she broke down in tears after tracking down her parents, who had long lost hope of finding her alive.
Wati, 15, showed up earlier this week at a cafe in Meulaboh, a town in Aceh province, saying she had been "adopted" by a woman who forced her to beg in the streets, sometimes until 1 a.m.
The teen said she could only remember her grandfather's name, saying it was Ibrahim. Someone at the cafe tracked down a man by that name, and the man — unsure if it was actually his granddaughter — quickly summoned her parents.
"When I saw my mother, I knew it was her. I just knew it," said Wati, who was given that name by the woman who found her. Her original name is Meri Yuranda.
Wati, second from right, poses for a photograph with her rediscovered family in Meulaboh, Aceh province, Indonesia, on Friday. The 15-year-old says she remembers her father putting her into a boat with her sister following the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami.
Indonesian state news agency Antara reported on Thursday that the girl was aged eight when she was ripped from her mother's arms by the rushing waters near her home in West Aceh, Indonesia, in December 2004.
It said her mother, Yusniar, was trying to get her and two other children to safety at the time.
The Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations hit Aceh — closest to the epicenter of the magnitude-9.1 quake that spawned waves 30 feet high — the hardest.
On Friday, The Associated Press said Wati had been kicked out by her "adopted" mother when she stopped bringing in money.
'She has her father's face'
With tens of thousands of bodies never recovered in the province, many people continue to cling to hope of finding lost loved ones, putting up fliers or ads in newspapers.
Reunions, however, are extremely rare and, when they occur, rarely confirmed.
Wati's mother, Yusniar binti Ibrahim Nur, 35, said she did not need a DNA test to prove the girl was hers.
"She has her father's face," she said, adding that she had stopped believing she would ever see her daughter again. "Then I saw the scar over her eye and mole on her hip, and I was even more sure."
Wati and her father had different accounts of what happened on the day of the tsunami.
The girl says she remembers her father putting her into a boat with her sister, who is still missing and presumed dead. The father says that before the family was separated, he put both of his daughters on the roof of their house.
The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.