Nine years on, Penang’s tsunami pain still lingers

Annas prepares another plate of 'rojak' for Osman Tukimin and Nor Aini Ahmad from Kuala Lumpur as he recalls that fateful day nine years ago when a tsunami swept into Miami Beach — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Annas prepares another plate of 'rojak' for Osman Tukimin and Nor Aini Ahmad from Kuala Lumpur as he recalls that fateful day nine years ago when a tsunami swept into Miami Beach — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 27 — The tsunami that struck Penang — both island and mainland — may have occurred nine years ago, but the tragedy still lingers painfully for many, even those unaffected.

Ask 50-year-old rojak seller Annas Ibrahim, who still gets the shivers down his spine come Dec 26 every year.

For that’s when tragedy struck where Annas was selling his rojak at Miami Beach.

“I was preparing my stall when I received a call from my wife’s friend saying that a hotel in Batu Ferringhi was hit by huge waves and she asked me if anything had happened where I was.

“I said no and that it was just like any other day at the beach and that I was looking forward to another roaring round of business.”

Hardly a minute after his telephone conversation ended, Annas heard screams. He turned around, only to be shocked by the sight of a huge wave from the sea  heading towards him.

Nearby were several picnickers and anglers who were equally spellbound at the very sight of the thunderous waves bearing down on them.

“But when the second round of waves rumbled towards us, it was too late for anything.

“I stood there frozen at the sight of so many of them, including children, being swept away by the waves.

“There was nothing I could do but watch in horror,” said Annas.

He immediately ran to the beach and pulled a woman victim who was hanging on for dear life to a tree root.

“I grabbed her and consoled her, saying everything was fine as she held on to me.”

He recalled it was not easy holding on to the woman as the waves were pulling her back to sea.

The woman whom Annas rescued paid him a visit last week.

“I was surprised when she walked up to me and said she wanted to thank me for saving her life,” he said.

Annas said he could not sleep for days after the tragedy as the frantic cries of children and their family members kept echoing in his ears. Also hurting was the sight of  lifeless bodies lined along the road. These images kept appearing in his mind.

A cold drinks vendor, who chose to be known as Zahari, said he could not imagine the devastation the tsunami caused from stories he heard from his friends, including Annas.

“I was not there but from what they related to me, it must have been a nightmare.”

A  Batu Ferringhi hotelier said she was haunted by memories each time she drove past the winding Miami Beach.

“I understand the pain of the victims’ family members when they drive past this winding stretch,” she said.

The tsunami hit Tanjung Bunga, Batu Feringghi and Balik Pulau at about 1.30pm, killing 52 people and injuring 141.

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