Struggling in the raging flood waters, Jillian Searle (search) had to make a choice: which son to hold on and which to let go.

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Searle, of Perth, Australia, was near the pool with sons Lachie, 5, and Blake, 2, when this week's tsunami (search) hit the Thai island resort of Phuket (search) where she and her family were vacationing.

"I knew I had to let go of one of them and I just thought I'd better let go of the one that's the oldest," she told Sky News television. "A lady grabbed hold of him for a moment but she had to let him go because she was going under. And I was screaming, trying to find him, and we thought he was dead."

Lachie was found safe two hours later after surviving the raging waters by clinging to a hotel room door.

"I cried for mom for a long time and then I was quiet," he later told his father, Bradley Searle. With mud and water marks up to his ears, his first words to his father were: "My hands are all dirty and I need to wash my clothes."

Jillian Searle said the family feels extremely fortunate. Thai authorities say around 3,500 bodies have been recovered along the beaches of Phuket, while an untold number remain missing and are believed to have been swept out to sea or buried in debris.

"We are just so lucky to walk away with the small children I have got," she said. "I just can't believe they are still here."