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Parents search for children swept away

Ragnar Ericsson was swept away when the tsunamis hit the Thai resort where he was staying.
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United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)

PHUKET, Thailand (CNN) -- Anders Ericsson still remembers the last words his 2-year-old son, Ragnar, spoke before being washed away in the waves of Thailand's tsunami.

"Daddy, I'm scared. Please help." Ericsson's voice breaks as he tells of the tragedy.

He is among many anguished parents searching for their children after the earthquake-triggered tsunamis swept through coastal communities from Thailand to East Africa on December 26, killing more than 155,000 people.

Ericsson, visiting from Norway, struggled to maintain his grip on his son when the waves slammed into the resort where his family was staying in Khao Lak.

Debris floated everywhere, and "the water was crazy," he said. "You were up, you were down."

Ragnar was torn from his father's grip.

"Since he was smaller than me, he just drifted away," Ericsson said.

The boy has not been seen since, but his father vows to find him dead or alive.

"That's what I owe him, as his father," he told CNN's "American Morning" on Wednesday.

Ragnar bears a striking resemblance to the 20-month-old Swedish boy, Hannes Bergstrom, who made headlines around the world when he turned up in a Phuket hospital.

"At first, we thought he was our son," Ericsson said. "We went to Phuket and found out otherwise."

Hannes has been reunited since with relatives.

Officials have said they fear for the safety of children who were separated from their parents or orphaned in the tsunamis. Some authorities said they are concerned that children could be kidnapped by criminals taking advantage of the turmoil. (Full story)

Officials have estimated as many as 13,000 children may have been orphaned in the region. It remains unclear how many children have lost parents and how many are separated from relatives.

UNICEF has said one of its priorities is tracing missing children and reuniting them with their families. The organization has set up a center in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, to care for children.

"In a disaster situation, there might be vacuums, and you know that there are people who are more vulnerable than others in that situation. Children (are) one of them," said Terje Skavdal, a U.N. representative.

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Wednesday that American officials were appalled by reports of human trafficking, and he commended the efforts of governments such as Indonesia's.

The United States is coordinating with government and other organizations in the region to assist in the return and repatriation of children, Ereli said. It also is seeking help from organizations with expertise in family reunification.

In addition, the United States has warned agencies in the area of the potential for human trafficking and asked them to spread the word.

The United States has offered guidelines to officials and volunteers in the region to minimize the risk of trafficking around camps where displaced and homeless people are gathering, Ereli said.

For some, even fears of kidnappings are somewhat of a relief, providing hope that their children could be alive.

"I don't know that he's been kidnapped," said Daniel Walker, a Swede in Thailand searching for his 12-year-old grandson, Kristian. "I should say I'm hoping he's been kidnapped, as opposed to having been killed initially."

Doctors at one hospital identified a photograph of Kristian, saying a boy resembling him was brought in for treatment for an ear injury by an older European male. But Swedish authorities said Wednesday that boy was not Kristian.

Meanwhile, Ericsson has been combing Thai hospitals for his son, but he said he is pretty sure the boy is not in a hospital.

"We want good news," he said. "But if the news is bad ... we have to know what happened to our son."

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