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Father, daughter together again

Reunion in Aceh underscores separation traumas from tsunami

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Villagers gather to buy food at Lampaseh Aceh in Indonesia.

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(CNN) -- An emotional reunion has just taken place in Banda Aceh, capital of Indonesia's Aceh province.

After more than six months apart, a father and daughter are together again.

The last time Muhamed Ali had seen his teenage daughter Sri Handayani, she was heading to visit relatives in the coastal town of Meulaboh.

But then the horrible nightmare of December 26 struck. A 9.15 earthquake triggered a tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean, leaving about 230,000 people dead or missing.

The massive waves destroyed hundreds of towns. Indonesia was the worst affected, with 166,000 people dead or missing in Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra.

Among the families torn apart was that of Muhamed Ali. Until just a few weeks ago, the 45-year-old carpenter did not know whether his 16-year-old daughter was alive or dead.

"I am very happy because I finally can see my daughter again," he said when the pair were reunited on June 22.

But the happiness of the moment quickly turned somber. Ali could only nod in silence when Handayani asked whether her mother and sister had been taken by the waves.

"I am happy that I can meet my family again, even though I lost my mother," she says.

The amazing story of Sri Handayani's survival began the morning the tsunami struck the coast of Aceh.

The force of the waves swept her from her aunt's house and into the second floor of a neighbor's house. She regained consciousness hours later.

For his part, Ali was on his way to work when the waves engulfed his house. When he returned there was nothing left.

Ali and his sons moved into a refugee camp. As the days passed, and days turned into months, there was no word of his missing daughter.

Then, one day, out of the blue, a phone call into the camp claimed someone had seen Ali's daughter. There was no way to follow up the call, so Ali could only pray she was alive.

Months after the disaster, government welfare workers and officials from the United Nations agency UNICEF began to connect the dots.

Finally, they were able to bring together Ali and Handayani, who was in another refugee camp.

"I thought she was dead and only one month ago I got news that she might be alive. Then I got a call from Meulaboh through the UNICEF office," he said this week.

In the chaotic aftermath of the tsunami, thousands of children were separated from their families, presenting a huge challenge for officials and agencies in charge of their welfare.

UNICEF is still tracking some 1,900 children who remain separated from their parents. Many of them are living with extended family, but about 100 are staying with foster parents.

Six months on from December 26, the reunion of Ali and his daughter Handayani is a rare piece of good news in an area that is still struggling to recover from the tsunami.

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