NEW DELHI – Nine tribespeople who survived the December tsunami (search) spent 38 days wandering through flattened villages on a remote Indian island, eating boars and coconuts, before police found them Wednesday.
Five men, two women and two young girls were discovered in a forest on Campbell Bay island by police searching for people still missing after the Dec. 26 disaster that killed at least 158,000 in 11 nations. At least 10,749 people were killed in India.
The nine belong to the Nicobarese tribe, Inspector Shaukat Hussain told The Associated Press by telephone from Campbell Bay, the only town in Great Nicobar (search), India's southernmost island. They range in age from 11 to 65.
The island, located in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago (search), is also known as Campbell Bay after its only town. The tsunami wiped out many villages on the island 140 miles from Banda Aceh (search), the worst-hit area in Indonesia.
"We were in a combing operation," Hussain said. "They were sitting in the forest when we saw them, and they just ran to us, without saying anything. They seemed happy, yes, but there was no hugging and tears and shouting in joy and all that."
Two of the survivors were hospitalized for severe dehydration, while the others were brought to a relief camp.
"They seemed weak but OK. They said they had eaten coconuts, boars and wild shoots. They hunted to stay alive," Hussain said.
"We found them not too far from where we found a dead body and cremated it."
The tribespeople were all residents of the island's Pillowbhabhi village on the western coast.
The Nicobarese, the largest of the indigenous tribes living in the archipelago, are a hardy tribe used to foraging and hunting in the forests and living on meager means of survival. However, they suffered extensive damage in the tsunamis because they lived in huts along the coast.
Hussain led a police team to look for bodies from the southern tip of the island, which was called Indira Point — India's southernmost tip — but disappeared after the tsunami.
The team landed at the southernmost tip of the island and trekked into the forest. After about eight miles, they spotted the survivors, he said.
"When the tsunami came, they had climbed on to a hill. They kept walking, they got lost, and were wandering in the forest, resting, then walking again," Hussain said. "They traveled from the western side of the island to the eastern side, until we saved them."