26 December 2004.
3 years ago, a massive earthquake scalling at 9.0 magnitude with an epicentre off the the West Coast of Sumatera, Indonesia was described as one of the worst disasters in the history of humankind.
Escaped from severe damages and high number of deaths unlike its neighbouring country Thailand, Malaysia still bore the wrath of the tidal waves at those places located in the coastal sides of Penang, Kedah, Perak and Selangor.
We were vacationing in Penang just a few days before the disaster struck and stayed at a resort in Batu Ferringhi, one of the main areas where Penang Island was worst hit. The weather during the few days of stay was great for picnicking and walking on the beach. You could see miles and miles of blue ocean from the white sandy long stretch of beach. Noone could have fathom what was in store in the next few days. Had Lyn not wanted to go back as she missed her cat, the vacation was supposed to stretch until Christmas day. So, on 23 December, we checked out from the resort and headed home.
Mary, an old colleage related to me of her story of how she and her entire family somehow escaped from this disaster.
It started of as a grand Christmas holiday plan for the entire clan – from grandparents, to cousins and nephews, siblings and parents – to go for a vacation to Phuket. Fate or whatever you want to call it, saw the wanted flight to Phuket full. There was a shortage of one seat for one of the family members. So, they changed plan, and booked a flight to Langkawi Island instead.
The entire family was booked at one of the resorts for a few days and was suppose to check out on 25 December 2004 itself. The check-out day arrived. Head of the family requested from the hotel for an extension of check out time but was denied as the hotel was running at a full capacity. So, while waiting for the time to go to the airport, the family decided to take a walk by the beach. The ocean, she reflected back, looked as if it was sucked away. The tides were very low you could walk on the sea bed. She saw crabs crawling away and dead fishes were scattered everywhere. She wondered where had the watergone to?
She heard a sudden ominous rumbling, she said, as if a huge army had just marched in, complete with horses trampling the earth, and she could feel a sense of danger in the air.
And there it was.
Giant, black waves from afar came rushing, rolling towards the shore. She got panicked, she said. She had never seen anything like that before. Gut feeling kicked in and she rushed towards the small nieces and nephews and pulled them away towards the resort. Other vacationers started to scamper back as well although a few were still standing there, as if waiting for the giant army of water to roll in.
She ran as if there was no tomorrow, she related with a shudder. The black, murky water rushed in towards the shore with such force that the minute she reached to a higher point, Mary and the kids were already drenched by the waves. Somehow, none of her family members were hurt.
Had one of the seats to Phuket were confirmed, the entire clan would have flown to Phuket and stayed at one of the worst hit resorts. To think that there was a possibility than an entire clan would have vanished in a split second in the dark, destructive waves of tsunami gives me a nightmare to this day.
A miracle? You decide.
In The Star Online today, it was reported that “hundreds of Indonesians prayed at mass graves in Aceh province on Wednesday, while in Thailand Buddhist monks held a ceremony to remember the many thousands who died in the Indian Ocean tsunami three years ago.”
“At Phuket in Thailand, locals and foreigners gathered for a blessing ceremony on the island led by maroon-robed Buddhist monks.”