“I was taking a bath when the tsunami hit,” recalls Elis, a 30-year-old mother of one and seven months pregnant. She was trying to escape the day’s humidity at her home along the seashore in Indonesia’s Labuan sub-district.
When the first wave hit, Elis’s husband, Purwanto, cried out: “Tsunami! Tsunami!” He rushed to their daughter and Elis’s parents, who lived next door, so they could seek safety. “When my husband shouted, I put on my clothes as fast as I could,” Elis said. “When he came back inside the house to help me, the second—and bigger—wave hit.”
This powerful wave, estimated to be 20 to 40 feet high, instantly destroyed the house. Purwanto, 35 years old, was injured when the building’s tin roof hit his left thigh. Elis was trapped by the rubble. “I tried hard to protect my pregnant belly so that it would not be hit by anything,” she said. “I could not see my daughter. I could not see my mom and dad. What I heard was my husband’s voice calling me.”
Fortunately, despite his injury, Purwanto was able to free Elis from the wreckage of their home. But they could not find their daughter or Elis’s elderly parents. They had no choice but to leave their ruined house and head to Labuan’s health center, not knowing if their loved ones were alive or dead.
The couple walked about a mile towards the health center. Along the way, they met a man on a motorbike who offered them a ride. When they arrived they saw many other people who had been injured in the tsunami. As they waited for treatment they desperately sought information about their family. “That night, we finally got word that our daughter was safe and [that] she was with my sister,” Elis said. The following day, the couple were reunited with Elis’s mother and father, who were also injured quite badly when the wave swept through the village. “Thank God, our family members were safe despite their injuries,” Elis said.