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Life After Tsunami: Kedah Family Recall Narrow Escape and Rebuilding Life

Although 15 years have passed since a tsunami hit Kedah on 26 December 2004, the aftermath of the disaster was so vivid that visitors today can still see homes left in ruins. The disaster claimed 11 lives in Kedah, and nine of those who perished were villagers of Kota Kuala Muda.

The tsunami that swept several villages in Kota Kuala Muda, was triggered by a massive underwater earthquake off Aceh, Indonesia at 8.58am the same day.

It was so deadly that the tsunami’s path carved devastation all the way to the shores of South Africa. With 228,000 recorded casualties and three million people affected, either displaced or lost their livelihood, it was marked as one of the worst natural disasters in history.

The tsunami memorial in Kota Kuala Muda features boats washed onto streets following the disaster on 26 December 2004. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/

In Kedah, It was reported the first wave crashed on the shores of Kota Kuala Muda at 1.15pm at a height of over 2.5 metres. The second wave at 1.45pm measured eight metres tall.

While walking around the compound of the Tsunami Gallery built next to houses destroyed by the deadly wave in Kampung Kepala Jalan, I came across Abidin Udoh, a 74-year-old former fisherman who survived the ordeal.

Abidin walked me through his day when the tragedy struck.

A bicyclist rides past a street in Kota Kuala Muda amid a house wrecked by the 2004 tsunami. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/

Tsunami D-Day

“I was headed home after attending my nephew’s funeral at noon. My son (Mohamad Rahmat, 28), who was 13 then, came running and told me he felt that something was not right with the sea.

I didn’t believe him, so he pulled me towards the beach. The sea is usually calm in December but that day the waves were violent.

It was so bad that a sizeable weather buoy stationed close to the beach was wiped away and disappeared in front of our eyes.

I didn’t know how to react until the first wave crashed the barrier. The force was so strong that the splash went higher than the coconut trees. When it reached land, the waters were filled with sludge.

Abidin (right) and his son Mohamad Rahmat at the beach near their home in Kota Kuala Muda. Mohamad Rahmat left his seven-year career as a ship navigator to care for his parents. Image: Canon Malaysia

It wasn’t until the second wave that everyone started running for their lives. By then, the wave started carrying a lot of debris, pummelling everything in its path. Even boats washed up onto the streets. The panic began.

People young and old, healthy and sick were on their feet. We just ran as far as we could and prayed for our lives.

Alhamdulillah, all my family members made it out safely.

Evacuation Centre

Aftermath of the devastating tsunami. Visitors can walk through the ruins at the Tsunami Gallery in Kampung Kepala Jalan. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/
Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/

It wasn’t long before help started pouring in. We were thankful to have survived the ordeal, but life was worse for wear at the evacuation centre. We were stuck for over a week with hardly any basic necessities. Clean water was scarce, mattresses only for the lucky few, even a toothbrush was a luxury.

While we were at the evacuation centre, the authorities like the army and fire brigade ran clean-up operations. We returned to half a home as the rest was literally swept away by the waves. Us kampung folk keep our valuables, like jewellery and even life savings in cash, stashed in a safe place at home.

We had a number of items that remained intact but we found it funny that our jewellery was gone. It wasn’t just us, but even our neighbours lost their valuables. Maybe those things were swept away, or perhaps the clean-up operation got more than what they bargained for. It’s OK, we don’t want to make baseless assumptions.

Trouble with Rations

Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/
Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/

We were really grateful for the help not only from the government, but also Malaysians who donated for our survival. Trucks lined the streets filled with food like rice, cooking oil and even gas cylinders.

We did get our rations at first, but eventually the supplies were no longer handed to us. Help kept pouring in, but the items stayed at the administrative office, perhaps exclusively distributed to a select few.

I did get a one-off MYR2,500 contribution and then our family was left to fend for ourselves.

Rebuilding Life

Abidin (standing, left), Mohamad Rahmat (standing, right) and the family recounting the day tsunami hit Kota Kuala Muda 15 years ago. One of Mohamad Rahmat’s siblings today runs a food truck business to make ends meet. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/

My whole family took out our life savings, spent whatever we had to rebuild everything again. It wasn’t easy, but as the years passed, we finally got back on our feet, albeit living a simpler life now.

We are still traumatised that we are on our feet whenever it rains or when we hear thunder. After the 2004 tsunami, we received three false tsunami warnings where the same panic evacuation ensued.

The disaster left a big scar in our lives, we pray we never have to go through it again.

Fifteen years on, it’s amazing how these survivors have picked up the pieces and rebuilt their lives — evidence that determination can help you overcome any obstacles that come your way.

What do you think?

Written by Asyraf Naqiuddin

Asyraf believes there’s a story anywhere you turn that could inspire readers around the world. With a penchant for high-powered motorcycles, he hopes to one day get back in the saddle and cover the globe on two wheels.

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