23. The Unlikely Reunion
On December 26, 2004, a 10-minute long earthquake with a 9.3 magnitude occurred in the Indian Ocean. This massive earthquake, which is the third strongest ever recorded in history, triggered various powerful tsunamis that reached over a dozen countries’ shores. Nearly 230,000 people were killed by the catastrophe, and hundreds of thousands of others ended up injured or missing. In the midst of all the devastation caused by this disaster, many amazing and inspiring survival stories have emerged. One of the most extraordinary of these is the story of a young girl named Wati.
The tsunami struck her hometown of Aceh when she was only eight years old. Like so many others, the powerful waves separated her from her family, and she ended up being washed into an unknown town. After many years of searching for her, her family gave up and assumed she had died after being swept away. Miraculously, Wati was returned to her parents seven years later, at the age of 15!
According to Wati, she had been “adopted” by a stranger who found her on the streets after the tsunami. Although the woman took her in to live with her, she forced Wati to beg on the streets and would often beat her if she did not make enough money. The girl had tried to find her family by asking for help from strangers, but did not remember the names of her parents and could only vaguely remember that she had a grandfather named Ibraham.
Finally one day, a cab driver who heard Wati’s story happened to know an old man with that name in a nearby town and decided to take her to him. Although the old man did not recognize her at first, he took Wati to see his daughter. “When I saw my mother, I knew it was her,” said the 15-year-old. “I just knew.” The parents were able to confirm that it really was their daughter based on a scar and birthmark on the girl’s hip. This miraculous story is, unfortunately, one of the only confirmed reunions among families that were separated by the disaster.