CHINNAKALAPET, India — "Run away!" her husband screamed from a rooftop after he spotted the colossal waves.
The command was simple but it presented Sangeeta with a dilemma: She had three sons, and only two arms.
She grabbed the youngest two and ran — figuring the oldest, 7-year-old Dinakaran, had the best chance of outrunning the tsunami churning toward her home.
But Dinakaran didn't follow. He headed for the safest place he knew, the small family hut just 40 yards from the seashore.
Sangeeta, 24, thought she would never see him again. Once she had crossed the main road to safety she collapsed into tears, screaming over the loss of her eldest son.
"I had heard from others that the wall of my house had collapsed, I felt sure that my child had died," Sangeeta said.
She was wrong.
The family dog — a scruffy yellow mutt named Selvakumar — ducked into the hut after Dinakaran and, nipping and nudging, forced the boy up the hill to safety. Selvakumar looks pretty much like every other dog in the village. He hardly ever barks and lets his family's three boys climb all over him and pull his tail without protest. At night, he sleeps with the family, no matter how many times they throw him out.
Most days, the dog escorts Dinakaran to and from school, spending the rest of the day playing with the other two boys, or begging for food.
Sangeeta's brother-in-law gave her the puppy, following the birth of her second son. When the brother-in-law died in an accident two years ago, they changed the dog's name to his.
The morning of Dec. 26 began like most others, with sunny skies and a cool breeze.
Sangeeta's husband, R. Ramakrishnan, had just returned from his early morning fishing with a boat full of fish.
When they heard a strange noise coming from the sea, Ramakrishnan went to investigate, saw the tsunami and from the roof of a nearby community center, shouted down to Sangeeta to flee. That's when she made her agonizing choice.
"He is somewhat older than the other two. I knew he would be able to run, so I grabbed the other two," Sangeeta explained.
Dinakaran credits the dog with saving his life.
"That dog grabbed me by the collar of my shirt," the boy said from under some trees at Pondicherry University, where the family is waiting for relief. "He dragged me out."
Sangeeta said she wept with joy when she saw her son walking up to her, with Selvakumar by his side.
She said she believes some special spirit, perhaps her brother-in-law's, resides in the young yellow dog.
"That dog is my God," said Sangeeta — with Dinakaran sitting on the ground at her feet and Selvakumar sleeping on the warm asphalt next to him.