The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tsunami yields miracle nine

Campbell Bay, Feb. 4: She sits in silence. Back among the living after being given up for dead for over a month, Clara barely manages a weak smile.

She is not unwell, though the 11-year-old is exhausted for sure, having spent 36 days stranded in the rainforests of Great Nicobar, along with eight others, living off coconut milk and the meat of wild boars.

While nature's fierce hand spared Clara and the other Nicobarese tribals from Pillobhabi, both her parents are missing. But the 'alpha' ' what the natives call December 26's wall of water ' was careful to leave in its wake a whiff, however faint, of hope.

If, after so long, this group could be found alive and relatively healthy, there is a chance that others ' including Clara's parents Abelton and Catherine ' could be, too.

'That these people are alive is definitely a miracle,' beams Shaukat Hussain, the officer who led the team of 12 policemen that chanced upon this group of nine at a point between Campbell Bay and Indira Point, India's southern tip.

'We will continue till we satisfy ourselves that there is no hope left,' he explains.

Teams of officials, along with local volunteers familiar with the terrain, can take a day to advance only 500 metres. Vast distances here pose a huge logistical challenge. The rushing waters, however, paid no heed to such barriers.

Mathias, Ayleen, Justine, Justin, Dominic, Sumitha, Clara, Danson and T. David all lived on the western coast of Great Nicobar, closest to the Sumatran epicentre of the earthquake.

'We found them on the eastern side,' recalls senior officer Bipin B. Choudhary. 'After the alpha struck, we started moving in search of help. We stayed in several places,' says 25-year-old Justin. They walked for days, halting on safe land for a few days in between. Finally, members of the Shompen tribe gave them shelter and taught them how to start a fire using sticks.

They continued their eastward trek. 'We don't know how far we came, or how long we walked. That we survived is God's hand,' adds Justin. The 12-year-old Sumitha insists she was not very afraid. "Only when the ground would shake would we be frightened. After that we would forget about it.'

But her older companions, who have spotted six corpses on their journey, recall never being sure if the water was going to come back for a fresh assault. That uncertainty is yet to pass. The nine may have survived, but they have nowhere to go. 'There is nothing left in our village. We can't go back there,' despair the men who lived off the land. Clara remains still, hearing it all, the borrowed purple dress her only possession; these strangers around her, who helped her escape certain death, her only family.

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