After the Tsunami, One Little Girl's Will to Survive

Magdalena was only 5 years old when she lost most of her family in the tsunami.

ByABC News
December 18, 2009, 10:56 AM

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Dec. 26, 2009 — -- Today is the fifth anniversary of one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded - the Indian Ocean Tsunami. An underwater earthquake set off a tidal wave that inundated the shores of 11 countries, leaving more than 230,000 dead.

The first and the worst region to be hit was Banda Aceh, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. More than 50,000 people died here and half a million were made homeless. Houses and shops were flattened by the wave; broken bodies littered what was left of the streets. People said the town looked like Hiroshima after the atom bomb.

At the time, aid agencies said that it would take 10 years to rebuild Banda Aceh. To rebuild human lives, they said, would take much longer. But that isn't quite what happened, not, at least, in the case of one little girl.

When ABC News first found Magdalena in December 2004, she had seen most of her family swept out to sea. At age 5 she had just buried her father, who had survived the tsunami itself but whose lungs had become choked with silt. An exquisitely beautiful child, Magdalena was so traumatized that she had lost the power of speech.

Recently an ABC News team returned to Banda Aceh, on assignment for "Good Morning America Sunday," and we managed to find Magdalena. What we found was living proof of the strength and resilience of the human spirit. Magdalena was living in a new home in the center of town, and had grown into a happy, well-adjusted 10-year-old, as beautiful as she ever was. Now she talks openly and excitedly about her life.

"What I like about being at home," she says with a smile, "is that I can look after my baby brother."

After the tsunami Magdalena was found by one surviving uncle, Pak Ismail, who had also lost his entire family to the tidal wave, a wife and two children. He adopted Magdalena immediately.

"Magdalena was a replacement for the two daughters I lost," her uncle told us, his voice cracking with emotion.

Like many survivors of the tsunami, Pak Ismail quickly remarried and now has two more children.