Tsunami: Survival Stories Emerge

People walk through piles of donated clothing in Nagappattinam, Tamil Nadu, India. Photo: RFA/Pema Ngodup

PHUKET - With more than a hundred thousand people confirmed dead in the Asian tsunami disaster, nations around the world have pledged more than U.S.$2 billion to help the international relief effort.

As United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan headed to the disaster-hit areas Monday, rescuers and volunteers were focused on trying to get clean food, water and shelter to survivors in shattered coastal areas around the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, remarkable survival stories began to emerge from the region.

Nightmares continue for small survivor

A six year-old girl from Taiwan has been reunited with her family after spending 22 hours in a coconut palm on a Phuket beach.

Yeh Chia-ni was thrown into the tree by her mother, Chiang Wan-ling just before the wave hit the beach where she was playing, relatives told RFA's Mandarin service. Her mother was swept away by the Dec. 26 wave.

I had no water to drink...Then two foreigners came to rescue me...They went and told some others.

More than 5,000 people died on Thai beaches alone after an undersea earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale rocked the ocean floor just off the Indian island of Sumatra.

"More journalists!" Chia-ni called out to her relatives when contacted by RFA reporter Rong Yi.

"I was there all night," she explained. "I had no water to drink...Then two foreigners came to rescue me...They went and told some others."

The body of her 38-year-old mother was identified by husband Yeh Shih-pin at the Thai resort Monday, local media reported.

Chia-ni's relatives told RFA that their granddaughter revisited the horror of the tsunami nightly in her dreams, and worried that the disaster might repeat itself.

The Taiwanese government on Sunday committed U.S.$50 million US dollars in aid to tsunami-devastated Asian countries, up from the five million it had previously pledged. China has committed U.S. $60 million for tsunami victims.

Huge response in Hong Kong

Hong Kong volunteer aid worker Tsang Kin-sing said that while Hong Kong people and civic groups had pledged more than U.S.$38 million in funds, the help had seemed extremely slow from the scene of the disaster.

"All along Patong Beach is a scene of disaster. The whole place has been laid waste. Most of the town of Phuket has been flattened. The notices pinned up in hospitals by people looking for missing relatives are like a sea of flags, rippling in the breeze," Tsang told RFA's Cantonese service.

The notices pinned up in hospitals by people looking for missing relatives are like a sea of flags, rippling in the breeze.

"There were no actual Hong Kongers on mainlanders among the injured that we saw. Today I saw a Hong Kong family looking for missing relatives," Tsang said, adding that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government had been slow to react to the crisis compared with Taiwan and mainland China.

"The greatest need now appears to be for people to donate resources to the local government to prevent disease," Tsang said. "The problem of disposing of the dead bodies is a really major one. I call on overseas Chinese living in the United States to lend a hand, whether it's to help Chinese people or other Asians, it doesn't matter, just to contribute to the effort here."

"The help came so late. It was really a case of closing the stable door after the horse had bolted."

Pro-democracy parade turned into a fund-raising event

Hong Kong individuals and groups--including massively rich organizations like the Jockey Club and the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp.--have responded enthusiastically to the disaster, donating more than U.S.$38 million to the tsunami relief effort.

A pro-democracy parade planned for New Year's Day was rapidly turned into a fund-raising event, generating a level of response which was apparently not matched across the border in mainland China.

Hong Kong commentator Lee Kwok-chen said the difference lay in the existence of a flourishing civil society in the former British colony. "It's much harder for ordinary people to get together to donate money in mainland China because they don't have various civil society groups which can organize very quickly to get funds out to the rescue effort," Lee told RFA.

"They're afraid of such groups, because they can't be easily controlled."


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