An American Family Overcomes Tsunami Tragedy

The Breisch children of Salt Lake City lost their mother to cancer when they were all very young, but nothing could prepare them for what happened during their holiday vacation in Thailand last year -- the tsunami that took hundreds of thousands of lives.

Shonti, a teenager, was out of danger on a side trip with her dad and stepmother that morning. But her siblings, Jai and Kali, were sleeping in their hotel bungalow. Kali woke when she heard the rushing sound of water.

"She was just yelling, "Jai! Get up! You gotta come see this," Jai said. "And then I saw this wave coming that was probably 30 feet tall. It was the loudest crash I'd ever heard."

Jai, badly injured, was carried more than half a mile inland. But he lived. His sister, meanwhile, was missing. In the days following the horrible tragedy, Shonti found a photo of her sister on the "wall of death," outside a morgue.

Both of Kali's siblings were devastated. Jai, an accomplished musician, stopped playing the guitar and writing music. Shonti dropped out of college.

But, Shonti soon reached a turning point -- she returned to Thailand.

"She was very courageous," said her stepmother, Sally Nelson. "She got on an airplane by herself and flew back to Bangkok. She knew it was the right thing to do even though it was very hard for her to do it."

To honor her sister, she has returned to the people who suffered so much, too. She and her family have started a foundation, 4kali.org, to feed and school tsunami orphans and help rebuild boats destroyed by the waves of flooding water.

Not only is she helping the Thai people, Shonti has grown closer to her brother, Jai, who has returned to playing music.

"The kids have really been forced because of the experience to recognize what they love about each other. You know, adolescents tend to be a lot in competition" Nelson said.

Jai has written a song, "Unlock Me," for his sister. It's about the love she unlocked for him, he said.

"You shine through me like sun through rain," say the lyrics. "Even with everything changing, my love will stay the same."

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