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Miracles of Aceh Tsunami Family

By Nurdin Hasan [Rappler.com]
Banda Aceh, TAG – The devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami may have forced them apart, but familial bonds appear to remain strong in an Acehnese family celebrating a miraculous reunion with their children almost 10 years after the disaster.

“They easily bonded,” Jamaliah, 42, said in an interview. She was referring to her youngest and eldest children, as well as their two siblings, Raudatul Jannah, 14, and Arif Pratama Rangkuti, 17, who were both swept away by the destructive waves that killed more than 170,000 people in Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh on December 26, 2004.
For the next 10 years, Raudatul and Arif were both thought to be dead, until an incredible turn of events over the past two months brought the family together again.
“Perhaps because there is an emotional bond that connects us, it’s not difficult for us to unite them,” Jamaliah added. “They are joking with each other. I see them sharing stories of what they’ve been through. Now our home is more alive.”
When the waves came on that fateful December day, Jamaliah grabbed their eldest child, Zahri, then aged 8, while her husband Septi Rangkuti, 52, took care of the two younger children, Arif and Raudatul, then aged 7 and 4, respectively.
“As we were being carried by the waves, I saw a drift board and I put Raudatul and Arif on it. Then I was swept away by a second wave, and I lost hold of the drift board,” Septi recalled.
Septi said he got lodged in a tree, and from there he saw waters engulf Meulaboh, the capital of West Aceh district. But he couldn’t see the drift board where his two lovely children were in anymore. Eventually, he managed to reach the second floor of a store standing near the tree.
"When the waters receded, I saw my wife and our oldest son walking among the debris. I called out to them, and we held each other close, and I told them of how I lost Raudatul and Arif,” he said.
The three of them combed the debris trying to find Raudatul and Arif. They opened body bags lined on the streets. They visited refugee camps. For months they searched to no avail, until they accepted the fact that their children had perished.
Then, the family decided to move to Septi’s hometown of Padang Sidempuan in the neighboring province of North Sumatra. There they rebuilt their lives, gave birth to a new son, Zumadil, 7 years ago, and tried to move on, until another fateful day in mid-June.

First miracle
Jamaliah got a call from her brother, Zainuddin, who told her an incredible tale: He saw a girl in Blang Pidie of Southwest Aceh district’s capital who looked a lot like Raudatul. Locals told him the girl was Weniati, an orphan because of the tsunami.
"I initially didn’t believe the story of my brother-in-law. I turned off the phone because I believed we lost our two children in the tsunami. In fact, when he called again, I refused to talk to him, and he just talked to my wife,” Septi said.
A few days later, Zainuddin sent over photos of the girl through his mobile phone. Septi also refused to look at them, but then his wife shouted: "Yes, this is our child, Raudatul!”
With his heart pounding, Septi recalled, he looked at the photos and saw the face of their daughter.
On June 27, they traveled to Blang Pidie to the house of a 62-year-old woman named Sarwani, who had been caring for Raudatul.
"When I saw her, I cried and hugged her. My husband also embraced her. We tried not to cry because so many villagers were watching, but we couldn’t fight the tears,” Jamaliah said.
"My husband and I were both very happy. God gave us a miracle and returned our child after nearly 10 years. “
But the miracles weren’t over.

Second miracle
In the town of Payakumbuh in West Sumatra, Lana Bestari was watching a news clip on TVOne about a family who was reunited with their long lost daughter and who was looking for their missing son, when she noticed they had similar facial features with a boy who had been hanging outside their Internet shop for years.
She took a photo of the mother shown on TV and showed it to the teenage boy known as Ucok.
“He immediately said, ‘that’s my mother,’” Lana said.
Lana told a TVOne reporter in West Sumatra, who took a photo of the boy and sent it to his colleagues in Aceh to show to Septi and Jamaliah.
“When I saw the photo, I was immediately convinced that he is our son, Arif,” Jamaliah said.
“A few days before we met him, I spoke with Arif over the phone. He said, 'Mom, this is Arif. Come quickly. I miss my mother and father and siblings,’”
Arif and Raudatul were apparently rescued by fishermen after the tsunami. A year later, Sarwani’s son-in-law, also a fisherman, saw them in Banyak Islands off the coast of Aceh and told his wife there were two children who needed to be cared for better. But as they already had 3 sons, Sarwani said they could only take the girl, thus separating Arif and Raudatul.
Arif later found his way to Payakumbuh, where he had been living on the streets since 2006. “I was jobless and homeless. Sometimes I helped people and got food in return," he said.
"When we met, he immediately called me ‘mamak’,” Jamaliah said, referring to the word for mother in the West Sumatran dialect. “We hugged each other and we were so sure he is our son.”
Jamaliah said they were ready to go through DNA tests if people doubted the children are the same ones they lost 10 years ago, but she said it wasn’t necessary.
She said the boy who grew up as Ucok has the same scar on his nose that Arif got when he was a small boy. “I also checked the mole on his head, and it was there,” she said.
“I am very happy. I am very happy,” she repeatedly said. “God's grace has brought back both of our children.”
Jamaliah said they will eventually return to settle in Padang Sidempuan, but for now their priority is to take care of Arif, who hasn’t been to school since the tsunami struck.
"Our extended family in Meulaboh still wants us to stay here to let Arif recover," she said.[]

Miracles of Aceh Tsunami Family Miracles of Aceh Tsunami Family Reviewed by Nurdin Hasan on September 02, 2014 Rating: 5

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