Asian Tsunami Heros

Monday, January 10, 2005

One child is saved, but many more need help

Dan McDougall

THE three-year-old boy was shivering and covered in painful salt-water sores when he was found clinging to a rotting pomegranate crate in the stagnant water of the lagoon.

As he was scooped out by a Sri Lankan navy patrol, almost 36 hours after a 20ft wall of water had swept through Kalkudh Beach on Boxing Day, the only evidence of his past was the plastic bag of dried jasmine flowers he stubbornly clutched to his chest, suggesting to his rescuers he had worked the coastal villages with his mother, selling offerings to worshippers.

For the weary sailors, who had spent the previous day and a half hauling both the dead and alive out of the Bay of Bengal, the youngster’s survival at sea wasn’t a miracle - he was simply the latest in a long list of those who had somehow withstood nature.

Forty-eight hours later, a schoolteacher, R Manjutharag, 30, and his wife Susila, 26 walked into the emergency camp nearest their home to volunteer their services and spotted the same grief-stricken young boy huddled under tarpaulin, weeping painfully into a bowl of rice. "All around him was bedlam," explained Mr Manjutharag, "He wasn’t being ignored, he was just so tiny - and the local relief workers so busy - that he blended into the background. But to us he stood out. My wife approached him, picked him up and gave him a hug - he stopped crying.

"We visited him again and it became clear his family had perished. Then we offered to take him home. He was still holding a bag of flowers when he met his new family.

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