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Missing tsunami girl home at last

A girl who was swept away in the Indian Ocean tsunami seven years ago has told how she broke down in tears after tracking down her parents, who had lost hope of finding her alive.

The 15-year-old showed up in Aceh province's hard-hit town of Meulaboh earlier this week, saying that not long after the wave hit she was "adopted" by a woman who called her Wati and forced her to beg, sometimes beating her and keeping her in the streets until 1am.

When the teenager stopped bringing in money, she was told, "Go ahead, leave ... go find your parents then, they're in Meulaboh."

With only patchy memories about her past - she was only eight when the tsunami hit, an age where most children do not know their relatives' full names - Wati began her search, telling people she thought her grandfather was "Ibrahim".

She met a pedicab driver in Meulaboh, who brought her to a man by that name. Though she did not look familiar, he quickly summoned her parents.

"When I saw my mother, I knew it was her," said the wide-eyed girl, her hair cropped close to her head. "I just knew." The family, who say the girl's original name is Meri Yuranda, is also now convinced.

The December 26, 2004 tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations hit Aceh - closest to the epicentre of the magnitude-9.1 quake that spawned the towering waves - the hardest.

With tens of thousands of bodies washed out to sea in that province alone, many families continue to cling to the hope of finding lost loved ones. Reunions, however, are rare and all those announced in the last five years have turned out to be untrue. Even so, some mothers continue to believe a child is theirs even after DNA tests prove otherwise.

Either way, without any challenges to the claims, Wati now has a family.

Yusniar binti Ibrahim Nur, the mother, said she had all the evidence she needed. "She has her father's face," the 35-year-old woman said by telephone. "And when I saw the scar over her eye and mole on her hip, I was even more sure."

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