Meri Yuranda spent seven years as a street beggar before reuniting with her parents

By Liz Raftery
Updated December 23, 2011 10:50 AM
Credit: EPA

In a true holiday miracle, a young girl who was swept away in the Indian Ocean tsunami seven years ago was found alive and reunited with her family in Indonesia this week.

Wati, 15, walked into a café in the city of Meulaboh trying to find her parents Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

After going missing in the 2004 natural disaster, the girl, whose birth name is Meri Yuranda, was “adopted” by a woman who called her Wati and forced her to work on the streets as a beggar, the AP reports. When she stopped earning money, the woman finally let Wati go this week, and a taxi driver helped her return to her village Wednesday armed with little information about her birth family.

“When I saw my mother, I knew it was her. I just knew it,” Wati said.

“I cannot tell you how grateful I am,” her mother, Yusniar binti Ibrahim Nur, told the AP, who added that a series of birthmarks on her daughter’s stomach, plus a mole and a scar on her face, confirmed her identity.

Wati’s older sister, who also disappeared during the tsunami, is still missing.

The 2004 tsunami killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries, with Indonesia being the hardest-hit.