Peter Damerau, 44, was at Pangandaran beach on the southern coast of Java island when the first waves slammed into the resort area on Monday. His children were in their hotel room nearby with their Indonesian grandmother.
“I saw a wave as high as two meters (six feet) and I ran to the hotel to get my children and their grandmother. But I did not find anyone there. The hotel was empty,” he told reporters in Jakarta.
“I saw boats thrown onto the beach like toys,” said Damerau, speaking after meeting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the military airbase.
After spending a frantic night and day searching for the boys — aged eight and six — he found them safe and sound in the hills one-hour drive away from the hotel.
“They were very lucky,” said Damerau, who is a program director for a Swedish television network and married to an Indonesian woman who did not come on the holiday.
Eight-year-old Pidi said he and his brother had been taken to the hills by their grandmother on a public minibus.
“I didn’t feel the earthquake at all but I saw the water. I was crying and afraid,” he said.
He said he was happy to meet the president but when Yudhoyono told him not be afraid of coming to Indonesia again, he said: “I will visit Indonesia again but not Pangandaran.”
The tsunami killed at least 547 people and injured 465 people, according figures compiled by the national disaster management coordinating agency. As many as 323 remained missing.
The deaths include five foreigners: one Dutch, a Swede, a Pakistani and two Saudis, the agency said. A French national is among the missing.