An unemployed Senegalese man who was rescued by the Spanish coastguard after making a risky journey from Morocco eight years ago on a packed wooden boat won 400,000 euros ($437,000) in Spain's annual Christmas lottery, local media reported Wednesday.
The man, identified only by his first name Ngame, was one of the holders of one of the 1,600 tickets with the winning number — 79140 — in Tuesday's massive draw, regional daily newspaper La Voz de Almeria reported.
The tickets had been sold in the southern beach city of Roquetas de Mar in the province of Almeria where the 35-year-old lives with his wife, who joined him on the crossing to Spain.
"I just can't believe this, I can tell you that on some days we do not have five euros between the two of us," he told the newspaper which published a photo of Ngame holding his winning ticket.
Ngame and his wife arrived eight years ago in the resort island of Tenerife, a part of Spain's Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco.
They were taken there after being rescued by Spain's coast guard when the boat they were travelling in ran into trouble. "There were 65 people on that boat. I want to give thanks to Spaniards and the Spanish government for rescuing me when I was in the sea," he told the newspaper.
Since arriving in Spain, the couple have tried to survive on temporary farm work or as vegetable pickers in the sea of greenhouses that spread for miles in Almeria. Ngame said he was recently laid off from his job in one of the greenhouses.
Spain's annual Christmas lottery, known as "El Gordo" or "The Fat One", is ranked as the world's richest, handing out a total of 2.2 billion euros this year.
Unlike other big lotteries that generate just a few big winners, Spain's Christmas lottery aims to share the wealth, with thousands of numbers getting a prize.
The Christmas lottery has been held uninterrupted since 1812. Even Spain's 1936-39 civil war did not end it, as each side held its own draw during the conflict.
It has become a popular Christmas tradition in Spain, with friends, colleagues and bar regulars banding together to buy tickets.
The standard ticket costs 20 euros ($22) and queues form outside lottery stores weeks ahead of the draw.