The “morning after” edition of the New Straits Times newspaper was distributed to all hotel rooms at around 4:30AM, Thursday 4/12/2012 and my mom was the only one awake among us to pick it up.
4/11/2012, Wednesday was a public holiday for the entire Malaysia because their new King was crowned or in their words, was installed (Sultans of Malaysian states rotate on being a King, as explained by one of my Malaysian students). In spite of the holiday when one has the luxury to enjoy the malls and whatnot in the island, my family and I simply chose to stay at home together. Then at around 5PM, I thought of sitting on our rattan chair in the living room instead in the sofa, and felt the seat was rocking and sliding. In a blink, Tina and my mom came out of separate rooms telling me it’s an earthquake! I knew it’s an earthquake but my mind was in denial for a few sec because for 20 months of stay here in Malaysia, I haven’t experienced any natural calamities, not a single typhoon nor floods, neither anything alarming.
Our very first earthquake felt in Malaysia.
As the four of us walked hurriedly to exit our unit, we saw next door neighbors about to go down too. We didn’t panic except for Gabby who knew nothing of earthquakes before this incident! You cannot blame our 7-year-old boy for it was his first time to experience such. The boy was almost in tears, yelling for us to take the lift. I, who was still plugging out and turning off electrical appliances in our rooms, told Gabby, “We never take lifts during earthquakes, anak, we take the stairs!” (Good thing is, our unit is located adjacent to the concrete stairs, almost across the elevators and our block has 2 more exits other than what’s beside our unit and the 2 lifts.) Tina held Gabby’s hand and guided him and my mom towards the stairs –11th floor to the ground. I locked our unit, went down with only 7-year-old mobile and keys at hand. Yes, we didn’t panic but admittedly, we’re NOT ready with such EMERGENCY! (Lesson learned : Pack important stuffs such as passports, credit cards, money, keys, things that matter to you the most and those you cannnot live without in an “E” bag with a couple of clothes and toiletries for survival. I know this, actually but honestly was too lazy to prepare.). We went down the emergency-exit-concrete stairs with one of our Filipino colleagues and stayed for about 20 minutes in one of gazebos in the playground.
The aftershock and the tsunami alert.
Twenty minutes after, we returned to our unit. I heard my mom reminding us to pack important things to be ready enough in times as such. I turned on my laptop and browsed online news about the quake; I even managed to chat to my friends in Pinas and Saudi about the earthquake and inviting a few of them over to Penang on one of its holidays. While Tina called her older sister, relayed our situation over the phone. Then, the inevitable happened. An aftershock! This time, Tina brought money with her in a sling bag and I got my backpack with passports and credit cards, and camera but still left and forgot my laptop, chargers and other things. We saw more people coming down. A siren was heard all over. Security guards seen actively roaming and advising the tenants to evacuate and leave our units.
Tina, Gabby, my mom and I walked our way to a restaurant-cafe in front of our condo unit. We saw some colleagues and talked to one of them who pleasantly, despite of the stress about the quake and all, kept her composure for her own family. We saw them carrying a few of their clothes and other essentials to their cars. We stayed in the restaurant, watched news on TV even if it’s on Bahasa Melayu and stay tuned for updates. We sat in the resto so naturally, we had to order food. It was a blessing in disguise for we had to fill in as it’s almost dinner. Trying to struggle with panic and anxiety, we heeded to the advice of one of our co-workers to get clothes, bottles of water, toiletries and things we need for the night and leave too. So while my mom and Gabby were waiting for our food, Tina and I went up again our unit and finally got our things. Leaving our unit was an understatement -we evacuated! Tina even joked as she tried to fight her stress, “We’re like refugees now!” As we rejoined my mom and our son in the restaurant, I saw my mom flipping pages of the telephone book so I began calling our suking (*insert english translation here*) taxi cab driver. Luckily, the cab driver’s available to pick us up and transport us to a hotel near our work and far from the sea.
Tina, Gabby, my mom and I had to evacuate our 10th floor (actually, we’re on the 11th level as Malaysians consider Ground floor as their 1st) seaview unit in Butterworth, Penang because a Tsunami alert was issued.
‘We have issued a tsunami alert. We urge people to keep away from the beach in (the states of) Kedah, Perlis, Langkawi, PENANG and Perak,’ Che Gayah Ismail, Deputy Director-General of the Malaysian Meteorological Department.
‘People are advised to keep away from the beaches. It is not an evacuation order.’ She said she wanted to clarify an earlier statement by a department official who had mistakenly said an evacuation order was issued.
The 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck off Indonesia’s Sumatra island, triggering an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami alert. Sourced via StraitsTimes.com
Despite the news which I firstly read on facebook, stated it was only a warning and NOT AN EVACUATION ORDER, the sound of sirens screaming long and twice, the sight of our colleagues who also live in the same condo units packing and about to leave, the countless feet that looked like EXODUS of people of various ethnicities whose ages range across the lifespan –literally, there were a lot of babies and grandmothers, all going down the stairs -but some took the risk of taking the lifts, those series of text messages and (missed)calls and brief talks with Filipino concerned co-workers, and worse, the cry and plea of our 7-year-old son who practically learned about the meaning of earthquake first time led Tina and I to immediately decide to go somewhere else too far from the sea.
We left this seaview for a night…
and woke up in Hotel Seri Malaysia with this view on our window…
Renting our 11th floor fully furnished appartment for 950 ringgit monthly (PhP 13,300 or USD 310) exclusive of utilities and other domestic bills to a very generous and nice Chinese-Malaysian lessor for almost a year now has been a good deal, or at least for us. We know that with such priceless and remarkably beautiful view of the bay before George Town and gorgeous sunsets by the porch, it’d be difficult to find similar cost and perks in Manila or possibly anywhere else. However, it dawned on us that living in a condo unit by the sea has its own downside too. Tsunami risk and earthquakes are difficult to battle. We’re not complaining, just contemplating. In fact, we’re very grateful despite and in spite of everything. Adversities make us stronger and wiser.
On a lighter note, we safely arrived via our reliable taxi cab driver in Hotel Seri Malaysia in Kompleks Dato Kailan, Kepala Batas at around past 9PM, Wednesday. It’s a few meters away from our place of work (and around 40-45 minute-away from our appartment when we take the bus).
If it’s only Tina and I, we could have stayed the night anywhere and waited until the tsunami alert’s lifted, but we’re with our son and my mom.
So I got a Family Room for only 160 ringgit nett (PhP 2,240 or USD 52.13–probinsya po kasi ang Kepala Batas kaya mura kumpara sa iba) inclusive of buffet breakfast for 3, a spacious room with a Queen-sized and a double beds, cable TV, internet use, hot and cold shower and a clean toilet. It was another steal! God knows that we’re financially burdened and unprepared for these things so He led us where comfort is affordable and reasonable (with its inclusives, it’s even cheaper compared to one of our favorite budget hotels, Tune Hotel!). God is great, all the time!
Facebook buddies kept me posted through the night. Notably, just so timely that the concierge gave me a negative reply when I asked her about English news on cable TV, one of my students informed me via fb that there’s an English news on TV3 at 12MN. Thankfully, we learned that tsunami alert was lifted around 10PM.
My family were all knockout at few minutes after midnight while I managed to stay up until half hour past 2AM.
Morning came with a new promise. We headed down to the Delima Restaurant of the said 4-star-hotel. Delima in English means Ruby or the red gem as told to me by the hotel manager. Tina and I actually have been seeing Hotel Seri Malaysia almost every week as it’s located right in the spot where Rapid Penang Bus Station in Kepala Batas is, however we never set foot to it before our so called evacuation.
And with no expectations from an unexpected (excuse the term) staycation, we were delighted with the buffet morning spread…
We arrived home at around past 12 noon, Thursday 4/12/2012 and were absent at work and school. Despite the nice stay in the hotel that night and everything seemed going back to ‘normal’, we felt extreme fatigue as soon as we got back.
We kept on telling Gabby to trust and believe in the Lord and that He shall never abandon nor forsake us, not now, not ever.
DEUTERONOMY 31:6 –”Be strong and of a good courage, do not fear, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, He it is who goes with you; He will not fail you, nor forsake you.”
*”We’re so thankful to those people who were concerned and professed that they prayed for my family’s safety on facebook, twitter and personal calls. Their messages were overwhelming! Maraming Salamat po!”