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Indonesian Parents Reunite with Children Lost in Tsunami

  • Kate Lamb

Jamaliah (L) kisses her daughter Raudhatul Jannah, 14, as the girl's father Septi Rangkuti and grandmother Sarwani look on following prayers at Baiturrahman mosque in Banda Aceh, Aug. 8, 2014.

Jamaliah (L) kisses her daughter Raudhatul Jannah, 14, as the girl's father Septi Rangkuti and grandmother Sarwani look on following prayers at Baiturrahman mosque in Banda Aceh, Aug. 8, 2014.

Almost a decade after a devastating tsunami hit the coast of Banda Aceh, Indonesia, one family believes they have been reunited with two of their children who have been missing since the disaster struck.

Raudhatul Jannah was just four when she and her brother were swept away by the tsunami that struck on December 26, 2004.

Until earlier this month when an uncle recognized the now teenager because of her striking family resemblance, Raudhatul’s parents had long feared that she was dead.

That fortuitous reunion now appears to have led to a second, seemingly miraculous discovery. Following the media coverage of the reunion, the family now claims they have also been reunited with their son, Arif Pratama Rangkuti, who has also been missing since the tsunami.

Miraculous recovery

The 17-year-old boy was spotted in a neighboring province by an Indonesian woman after a photograph of him was broadcast on television. Arif had reportedly been living on the streets and had occasionally slept outside the woman’s Internet café.

Simon Field, a former advisor to the United Nations’ Development Program spent years in Aceh post tsunami. Field says he is surprised by the news given the efforts to map communities following the disaster.

“I would have thought that there would have been a process in which people were identified because there was lots of activity to identify people in very diverse situations and when people weren't part of family networks and communities, so it is just surprising that it is all happening now," he said. "I find it very strange and amazing after all the effort and resources, but then again in those first few days things were just very chaotic.”

Triggered by a mammoth 9.1-magnitude earthquake, across Aceh province the tsunami flattened entire communities and claimed the lives of more than 170,000 people.

The demographics of Aceh were turned upside down, particularly as many of the victims were women and children.

Reconstruction

Backed by $655 million in international aid, the reconstruction process included extensive efforts to map communities.

Programs to register families on government databases and to identify orphans to ensure they received their entitlement to land, was a significant part of this process.

The extraordinary cases of reunification this month, says Simon Field, might have slipped through the cracks because of geographic isolation.

He says it is unlikely there will be many more similar cases.

“If the woman and the child was growing up in an isolated community that could explain a lot, they could have missed out on a lot, but I don't know that there will be that many more coming [cases] out of the woodwork,” he said.

The brother and sister were reportedly picked up by an Indonesian fisherman after the tsunami and taken to Banyak Islands, some 40 kilometers off the mainland, before later returning to Aceh.

The parents, who have described the reunions as a miracle, stopped searching for their children a month after the tsunami struck.

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