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Excerpt: The Angry Sea

Orphans saved by facing storm head on

Editor's Note: CNN New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra was in Colombo, Sri Lanka, when the tsunami struck on December 26 and spent the next three weeks covering the disaster. Inspired by the courage of a 9-year-old boy who lost his mother, Bindra has written a book, "Tsunami: Seven Hours that Shook the World." These are select excerpts from the book.

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Sri Lanka's Kalutara Beach before, left, and after the tsunami.

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Sri Lankans living on the east coast needed the most reassurance because it was here that the wave killed the most people and wreaked maximum damage. But when nature destroys, it's sometimes humans like Father Dayalan Sanders who can perform the most amazing feats.

On early Sunday morning, on Boxing Day, Father Sanders was at the orphanage he runs for children at Navalaji Beach, on the eastern shores of Sri Lanka, when his wife burst into his room.

It was 8:40 a.m. and Father Sanders saw a look of complete horror on her face as she yelled, "The sea's coming in!" His wife was petrified by what was happening around them. But he reassured her, "God is with us and nothing will harm us."

Moments later, Father Sanders was out on the beach. This is how he first described what he saw to CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour: "Words defy description. It was a massive 30-foot wall of sea, you know, black in colour, stretching from one end of the beach to the other and the very sight of this mass of water rushing towards us, it was like a thousand freight trains charging at you, that thunderous roar itself petrified you with fear."

Father Sanders realized speed was critical: "I was not thinking, only acting. There was no time to think. You had to act on impulse and you had to act instantly."

The only way to save the kids was to get them all into a boat that was kept at the orphanage. Normally, such an activity would have taken about 15 minutes, but Father Sanders told Amanpour he got it done in under 10 seconds.

The motor was on the boat. "We never leave the outboard motor on the launch. This is the first time we have done this, that this has happened to us." It was also the first time Stefan, the boatman, was able to get the motor going on the first try. "He just yanked the starter rope ... in one pull, it started."

With 32 people, including 26 children, crammed into his small boat, the Catholic missionary felt there was no point in trying to outrun the wave or the massive force it represented. He felt God was asking him to turn the boat, powered by just a 15-horsepower motor, to face the monster wave. As the boat surged towards the tsunami, Father Sanders never felt scared: "People were crying out for help. Heart-rending cries rent the air. Even with death, helplessness and debris all around, never did I think we were going to perish. God was not going to let us down. I looked up to the sky and I knew God was watching."

Burdened by the responsibility of so many tender lives in his care, Father Sanders recalled a scripture: "When the enemy comes in like a flood, the spirit of the Lord shall raise up a standard against it." Seconds later, the priest stood tall in the boat's bow, next to a green fluttering flag that read "Jesus is Lord," raised his hands towards the heavens and recalled saying: "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ on the strength of the scriptures, to stand still!"

Father Sanders believes something, perhaps an invisible force, did then hold the wave back, allowing him and his precious human cargo -- dripping wet, but unscathed -- to reach the town of Batticaloa. Experienced sailors point out that this was no miracle as Father Sanders claims, but they, nevertheless, praise him for his quick thinking and amazing presence of mind. According to them, the safest place to be when a tsunami hits is on top of the wave, which explains why fishermen and hundreds of boats out at sea did not suffer the same fate as those on, or near, the shore.

Fathers Sanders' orphanage was completely destroyed. Twenty years of his life's work vanished in just a matter of seconds. But he hasn't given up and has promised to "rise like the phoenix" to defeat what caused so much turmoil in his life: "It wasn't just a wave. It was a living, fighting and malevolent force. It was out to kill."

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