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Tsunami Survivor Petra Nemcova Rebuilds Young Lives With Happy Hearts

Petra Nemkova

These photos at the nationalpost.com of the devastation in Japan from the tsunami remind us of the unforgettable destruction of the Indian Ocean Tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004.

The number of casualties from that disaster was staggering. We could not fathom that it could kill 230,000 people in 12 nations and displace more than 1.4 million.

One person was touched by it in a most horrific way. Model Petra Nemcova, vacationing in Thailand at the time, was almost swept away by the overpowering current but managed to keep her head above water. Her fiance, photographer Simon Atlee, disappeared into the raging waters.

Here she describes how she survived by holding onto a tree for 8 hours…


Petra ended up with a broken pelvis and internal injuries as well as the traumatic loss of her loved one. But out of this tragedy came an idea for a way to help those with little hope and great need.

In 2005 she started the Happy Hearts’ Fund, a non-profit dedicated to “improving children’s lives through education and sustainable programs in natural disaster areas.”

She told ABC in 2009 that she would never forget the faces of the children of Thailand, and she hasn’t. Her organization has built 50 kindergartens and schools for more than 31,000 children in nine countries.

Petra Nemkova in Thailand

Petra at a school rebuilt for children in Thailand

To learn more about Petra’s efforts to help children affected by horrific earthquakes, tsunamis and the like, go to her Happy Hearts’ website. Her organization is monitoring the situation in Japan to see where resources can best be used. Petra is a great example what one person can accomplish as a result of an enormous natural disaster.

She told Good Morning America today that seeing the pictures from Japan was horrifying. Her heart is broken. She’s asking people to help now but to be there for the long run.

“People can overcome adversity if they make something good come out of difficult circumstances,” she added.

You’ll be seeing her soon in the upcoming “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC.

UPDATE: Petra left the dancing show on April 19th after a very successful appearance.

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