Edinburgh Evening News

Thu 24 Feb 2005
SURVIVOR: Yufrita Skyner, with husband David and sons Adam, left, and Fabien, at home in Queensferry Road.

Mum who almost lost everything in tsunami


THE little brown-eyed boy flicks a page of his pop-up book and giggles at the funny pictures while nearby his mother sways, gently rocking his seven-month-old brother to sleep.

A toy chimes a nursery rhyme tune and outside a crisp carpet of icy snow blankets the garden . . . just a normal winter’s day in an Edinburgh home.

Except nothing can be "normal" again for the Skyner family now. Not since the tsunami.

Two months have passed since the wave washed away almost a quarter of a million lives. That means it is now eight weeks since mum Yufrita clung in terror to a tree in the garden of her family’s home in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and 60 days since she cried helplessly as relatives and friends perished in the stinking water around her.

But the memory of how she almost lost her two little boys is as fresh as ever.

The Skyner family finally arrived back at their Queensferry Road home only three weeks ago, having experienced the enormous relief of escaping with their lives only to watch, horrified, as their children, toddler Adam and baby Fabien, became grievously ill from the effects of the contaminated water.

Today Adam, just a few weeks short of his second birthday, appears on the surface to be well. Yet he faces another month of treatment for the effects of salmonella and E.coli; his weight has dropped by at least a kilo and he screams in utter terror when his parents try to take him swimming.

"We tried to introduce him to the pool," explains Yufrita, 36. "He was so scared of the water. It’s only this past two days we have managed to put him in the bath to play."

It was on Boxing Day that the world learned of the horrific events unfolding in the Indian Ocean, as the tsunami’s unstoppable force wreaked its havoc on millions of lives. Yufrita, husband David and the two children had left their Barnton home two days earlier for Banda Aceh - Yufrita’s family’s home - for her younger sister’s wedding celebrations.

Just days earlier Yunisa had married her groom Razi in front of huge numbers of family and friends, drawn by Yufrita’s family’s titled connections. "My great grandfather was King Teukum Umar," she explains, "and my great grandmother was Heroine of Aceh."

Today monuments to the late 19th century freedom fighters are to be found around Banda Aceh.

Yufrita arrived with her two children just hours before another important stage in the wedding ceremony, leaving husband David behind in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra Province, to sort out a passport and visa hold-up.

"On Sunday, December 26, there was to be a party in the groom’s house," recalls Yufrita. "It was early when the earthquake started." The earthquake registered 9.0 on the Richter Scale, its epicentre just 250km south of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province which has since been "adopted" by Edinburgh through the Evening News/Mercy Corps Capital Appeal.

Yufrita recalls the chaos that ensued, her brother Tuekum Almizan - visiting from America - shouting to everyone to get out and then the momentary return to normality with the women fretting over the loss of the beautifully decorated cake.

"We all thought that was that. We were sitting on the verandah when a lamppost started rocking.

"We were scared the house would collapse. We ran and sat on the driveway. We could hear something like a rocking sound, tut, tut, tut."

It was then the family saw the water. "It wasn’t very high," remembers Yufrita. "I was holding Adam and my younger sister had Fabien. There were about 12 of us, my mother, grandmother, the children, my sisters, two uncles, an aunt, my brother and two cousins.

‘WE saw the water and thought that maybe someone’s water tank had burst. I didn’t even see the wave coming," says Yufrita. "It just hit my face. Just suddenly ‘whoosh!’

"I was shouting ‘Fabien! Save Fabien! I thought I had lost him, I couldn’t see him. I was holding Adam and suddenly he was under the water. I tried to save him by getting him on to my shoulder, then I ended up under the water. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t swim."

Dragged along by the wave, Yufrita managed to grab a piece of wood sticking out among the debris scattered around her in the filthy water. I looked around and could see Fabien was OK - thank God he was safe.

"My sister had him - she was about 50ft away - and they were holding on to a phone cable with my mother. She put Fabien on her head to save him. He was sucking his finger, [he] looked down and smiled at her..."

Yufrita managed then to hook herself on to the branch of a tree, holding on with one arm, clutching her frightened toddler in the other.

"My brother was on the other side of the tree. I said to my brother ‘I can’t hold any more, I’ve got to go, too heavy’. He said ‘hold on, hold on’ and grabbed my hand and helped me jump on to the tree.

"My mother had my grandmother but couldn’t hold her any more. I saw my grandmother floating by face down. I said to my brother ‘Grab her, grab her’. He grabbed one of her legs but he couldn’t hold on, so I grabbed her. "I had Adam in one arm and my grandmother in the other.

"I saw my uncle in the water. My cousin grabbed his father’s hand but by the time he was able to get him to a piece of wood, he died there."

Such was the force of the water that Yunisa, the bride, was swept from the family driveway and found on the second floor of a building in the next village. Her new husband, Razi, lived close to the beach. His body has never been found.

As the wave receded, Yufrita hitched lifts and begged passers-by for help. After a night at a relative’s home, she managed to get to the airport and on to a plane to Medan, back to an oblivious David.

"I had no idea," admits David, 43, a software engineer. "I had felt the earthquake but nothing like Yufrita experienced. The news reports were talking mainly about Sri Lanka and Phuket. It was only when I saw them sitting outside the house in Medan that I realised."

BOTH children had swallowed the filthy water, and needed hospital treatment to save their lives. There followed a harrowing six weeks in hospital, first in Medan and then in Jakarta before the family flew home.

Today Yufrita still struggles to come to terms with the horrors she witnessed. The toll of death of friends and family is too many and too painful for her to even begin to list. She wants to focus on the future, the reconstruction of her home city which relies so heavily on the dedication of aid workers, like the team from Edinburgh-based Mercy Corps and the generous donations from Evening News readers to our joint Capital Appeal, to help rebuild the Aceh region. Already £40,000 has been raised. But much, much more is needed to begin to rebuild so many shattered lives.

"My family have been left with nothing," sighs Yufrita. "They had a beautiful house, big garden, my mother had a home catering business... and now they have nothing."