On December 26, 2004, María Belón was lying by the pool, reading a Spanish novel at the Orchid Resort Hotel in Khao Lak, Thailand. Her children – Lucas, 10, Tomás, 8, and Simón, 5, played in the water with their dad nearby.
Belón, a doctor, and her husband, Enrique Álvarez, had taken their children overseas for the Christmas holidays. That Boxing Day – just three days into their holiday – changed their lives forever.
"We started to hear a very horrible sound. I was looking around thinking maybe this is just in my mind. No one recognised the sound. It felt like the earth was coming apart but everything looked perfect," Belón told Mirror in 2017.
"I was facing the sea and saw a huge black wall. I didn’t think it was the sea. I thought it was a black wall coming to get us."
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Moments later, the Belón-Álvarez family was hit by the torrential force of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Belón was separated from her husband and sons who were in the swimming pool. Doctors later told her she'd been underwater for at least three minutes.
"My family was all gone," she recalled to People in 2013. "It was, 'Oh my goodness, I’m alive but I am alone.' The most horrible thing I could ever think of was being alive without them."
But as she clung to a palm tree, she spotted her oldest son floating nearby.
"When I saw Lucas, I thought, 'Okay, I have an incredible reason to be alive,'" she said. "We were in the water struggling, and Lucas was screaming, 'We’re going to die!' I could feel something incredible, and I said, 'We need to be courageous, we need to take care of each other, but we will not die,'" she said.
"Lucas was 10 years old, but he was very brave," she added.