GEORGE TOWN: Penang businessman A Suppiah will always remember the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that claimed the lives of thousands of people in Southeast Asia.
Suppiah, 70, almost lost his then 22-day-old daughter S Thulaasi in the tsunami.
The huge waves that hit Miami Beach in Penang’s Batu Ferringhi in 2004 also smashed into Suppiah’s shophouse and swept out a mattress with the sleeping baby on it into the sea.
Luckily, the second wave brought the mattress and the baby back to the beach.
Recalling the incident, Suppiah said he could never forget his daughter’s miraculous survival.
“In an instant, the situation became chaotic, with people shouting and screaming,” he said. “Prior to that, a foreigner came to me and asked what the two white lines or bubbles he saw approaching the beach was.
“I had no answer to it, but told him that December is a month of festivities in Penang, where a boat race would be held, but he said it was not it, and that something was wrong.
“And then, the sea level rose and everybody was running helter-skelter.”
Suppiah said he ran as well, to save his 12-year-old daughter and Thulaasi, but could not get to them in time. He was swept by the current and managed to hold on to a pole.
His wife and Thulaasi were in a room in the shop when the tsunami struck.
“After that, I went to search for my baby, but failed to find her until an Indonesian man came to me and told me my baby was found safe on a mattress,” he said.
Thulaasi made headlines around the world as “the miracle baby who floated home”.
Initially angry at the loss of their belongings in the tsunami, Suppiah said he subsequently felt remorse after reading about the extent of the damage and loss of lives in the newspapers, while his family was safe.
“It’s normal for us humans to feel angry at first, especially when I looked at my shop, where everything was destroyed, but after reading about the tsunami in Sri Lanka, Aceh, Thailand, which killed so many people ... My family and I survived the incident. It made me feel grateful and urged me to seek pardon from God,” he added.
Following the incident, Suppiah said he would always hold special thanksgiving prayers on Dec 26.
Thulaasi also said she was grateful that God saved her from the tragedy.
“My father told me about the tsunami when I was about four or five years old,” she said. “I am so grateful to be alive and I always thank God in my prayers,” the 15-year-old said.
The tsunami, triggered by a 9.3 magnitude undersea earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia on Dec 26, 2004, claimed more than 200,000 casualties in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Many of those killed were tourists enjoying Christmas holidays in hotspots like Phuket. Aceh was hit the hardest, as it was closest to the epicentre.
In Malaysia, Penang received the brunt of the damage, with 52 dead out of 68 deaths reported nationwide.