On December 26, 2014, an earthquake of magnitude 9.3 on the Richter scale rocked the West Coast of Northern Sumatra resulting in a devastating tsunami that left at least 300,000 dead and a million homeless.
The tsunami struck Banda Aceh, the city closest to the epicenter, around 20 minutes later sweeping 23-year-old Rizal Shahputra and many others out to sea. The arrival of the towering waves was so sudden and unexpected that the hapless people had no time to escape the surging waters.
Rizal lost his parents and two siblings in the horrific tragedy.
He would spend 8 days clinging onto an uprooted tree in shark-infested waters until help arrived in the form of a cargo ship. According to reports, the Japanese-owned ship was en route to Malaysia from South Africa when it happened upon a young man who was shouting for help: "Huang Wen Feng, a crew member of the ship, said he was "very, very surprised" to see Rizal standing on his wood debris on Monday."
At the time of rescue, Rizal had drifted around 100 miles from his home city of Banda Aceh and was suffering from severe sunburn and dehydration.
Even though there were several other people holding on to the tree along with him in the first few days following the tsunami, Rizal recalls that one by one they succumbed to exposure and dehydration: "At first, there were some friends with me," he said. "After a few days, they were gone... I saw bodies left and right. Everybody sank, my family members sank. There were bodies around me."
His story of surviving 9 days alone on a makeshift raft he created by binding together pieces of wood amidst dead bodies and fending off two shark attacks is deemed a "tsunami miracle."
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