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Sunday 13 February 2005

The most vulnerable victims - 'Children'

'Tsunami Generation' braves unprecedented loss, aftermath

(Source: CNN.com) -- The children gather at a temple in Batapola, Sri Lanka -- laughing, playing and trying to forget.

"When the water came, I was frightened," recalled Sanga, 12, of the tsunamis that struck in late December. "We ran, and our home is gone."

"All the houses were destroyed, all the dresses," added Sujeewa Samarasingha, another orphan living in the southern Sri Lanka temple. "We are very, very sad."

Sleeping 40 to a room, these children are both supremely unfortunate and fortunate. They face extreme challenges -- physical, psychological and otherwise -- in the coming months. But they are alive, having survived a disaster that took thousands of lives including, in many cases, their parents, siblings and friends.

From Thailand to Somalia, more than 150,000 people died in the tsunamis. The United Nation's Children Fund (UNICEF) first estimated children made up one-third of the death toll. But Charles J. Lyons, president of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, said that percentage, if anything, might be too low.

In many hard-hit countries, birth rates tend to be high and life expectancies low -- 30 to 43 percent of residents are age 18 or below -- so children fatality rates somewhat mirror the population breakdown. Beyond that, children are generally more vulnerable than adults -- smaller, weaker and more susceptible to nature's fury and disease.

"Children are much less able to run away, fight the water, hold onto or climb a tree," said Lyons. "Adults that were stronger were more likely to survive; the youngest were simply unable to."

Yet, amid the tragedy, remarkable events left room for hope and faith.

Off Thailand's Khao Lak tourist resort, a woman discovered an 18-month-old boy from Kazakhstan floating on a mattress. His parents are thought to have perished.

Twenty-day-old Suppiah Tulasi also survived. Her parents found her lying on a mattress in 5 feet of water hours after waves flushed them from a Penang, Malaysia, restaurant.

Seattle, Washington, residents Ron Rubin and Rebecca Beddall climbed to the roof of their hotel in Phuket, Thailand, where they spotted 18-month-old Hannes Bergstrom. They took the Swedish boy -- rescued reportedly with the help of a Thai princess -- to a local hospital. Hannes eventually rejoined his father and other relatives. His mother remains missing.

"He had a toy, and he kept squeezing it and he was talking," said Beddall, recalling video showing the reunion. "When we had him, he was not playing and he was not talking. So it made us very happy to see him normal again."

(Article Link: http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/01/05/overview.children/)
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