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Salvadoran sea survivor returns to hometown

February 19, 2014

GARITA PALMERA, El Salvador (AP) — The Salvadoran fisherman who says he spent 13 months adrift at sea surviving on raw turtles, fish and birds returned Wednesday to his coastal hometown, where he was warmly welcomed by friends and family.

“I feel very happy to be back,” Jose Salvador Alvarenga said Wednesday. “I’m home.” Dozens of residents shook his hand.

The 37-year-old sailor left the hospital Tuesday after days of treatment for the physical and psychological effects of his voyage.

His 14-year-old daughter, Fatima Mabea, who hadn’t seen Alvarenga since she was a baby, hugged him and told him, “I love you. I’m not going to let you go again.”

His wife, Arely Barrera, who hadn’t seen him for 10 years after he moved to Mexico, also greeted him and kissed him on the cheek.

Alvarenga’s story stunned the world when he washed up on a Pacific atoll several weeks ago, seemingly robust and barely sunburned. But he turned out to be swollen, dehydrated and in pain from the ordeal.

He has said he came close to giving up hope of being rescued after several large ships came near his small fishing boat but none tried to rescue him, even though sailors on at least one even waved at him.

Doctors have been amazed by his physical condition after traveling 6,500 miles (10,000 kilometers) in a small fishing boat from Mexico to the Marshall Islands. He was believed lost in a storm while fishing off the coast of Mexico.

On Tuesday, doctors said he seemed mentally well, though he is now afraid of the sea.

Update hourly