Nepali Times Asian Paints
Nepali family survives tsunami


Many miraculous stories of survival and endurance have emerged from the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami one month ago.

The Shahi family has only now started coming out of the shock of having nearly perished, coming to terms with having survived when so many thousands died, and getting on with everyday life.

Susheel Shahi is a Nepali teacher working in Brunei who had gone to Penang in Malaysia with his family for Christmas break. The Shahis were just checking into the hotel in Penang when they felt the earthquake. There was panic in the lobby, but being from Nepal Susheel knew what to do to take cover. After the tremor subsided, the reception took time with the guests, so Susheel, his wife Milan and daughter Aishwarya headed out to the beach.

Milan was busy taking pictures with her new digital camera while Aishwarya and Susheel were splashing around in the water.

Suddenly, the water was receding like a low tide on fast forward. "It was as if we could see the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and the lifeguard started blowing his whistle to get us to clear the beach," recalls Susheel, "but we were having too much fun to pay much attention." Milan started waving and pointing.

It was only then that Susheel noticed the approaching wall of water on the horizon. "At first I was oblivious to the danger as the waves came up," he recalls, "but it just kept coming higher up to my hips."

A wave pushed him into some rocks, he screamed for his daughter. Milan remembers, "I was pushed back by the wave and watched in horror as my husband and daughter were engulfed. Aishwarya was screaming and my husband caught hold of her and passed him on to a man higher up the rock."

For some reason, Susheel didn't think of climbing up himself and started looking for his floating shoes. Just then a larger and stronger wave pushed him onto the rocks nearly smashing his head on them.

"I looked back and saw there was an even higher wave coming, and that is when I scrambled up," says Susheel. "I climbed in panic and finally got to the top just then a giant wave as high as the palm trees smashed onto the shore."

At the top, Susheel saw his wife and daughter hugging each other, they had given up on him being alive. The three of them held hands and ran for dear life. Later, they found out the next few waves were twice as high as the last one that nearly washed Susheel away.

Susheel was badly bruised and Aishwarya had deep cuts on her side. The three found a taxi to take them back to the hotel and along the way saw corpses and wounded people waiting for ambulances. The three went to the resort of Langkawi the next day but Milan and Aishwarya refused to go anywhere near the sea again.

They spent a subdued new year's at their hotel watching the tsunami coverage on the news channels. Milan and Aishwarya are now back in Nepal, slowly coming out of the shock. Susheel has gone back to his school in Brunei. He told us over the telephone this week: "Watching the news reminds me just how lucky we were."

Although their camera was damaged by the tsunami, they retrieved the last pictures from the memory card.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)