Remembering Tsunami 2004: No end to pain for family that lost five children

Zulkifli Mohd Noor will never open this cupboard again. The memories they contain — new school uniforms, bags and books — of the five children he lost to the tsunami are too painful to confront and too precious to discard. — WAN MOHIZAN WAN HUSSEIN/The Star

There is no ‘closure’ when you have suffered such a loss, not even a decade later.

"They were too young, it wasn’t their time yet ... but I have to accept their fate as a test from Allah,” Zulkifli Mohd Noor says, speaking in Bahasa Malaysia.

The 53-year-old bus driver was living in Pantai Pasir Panjang, Balik Pulau, Penang, on that fateful day in 2004 when he lost five of his seven children to the waves.

He still has the new school uniforms, bags and books he bought for four of the five who were of school-going age in a cupboard in the living room, where we met for this interview in October.

“I never open it, I can’t stand to look at the items. They died a week before the schooling session started,” he says, struggling to hold back tears.

His wife, Jamilah Majid, 46, does not speak of the tragedy – she still cries whenever it is mentioned.

The five who were lost were Siti Nurain, 16, Mohd Shukri, 12, Siti Noorsyuhada, 10, Siti Nooratikah, eight and Siti Noorsuraya, five. Siti Fairuz and Siti Zulaikha, who were then 14 and one respectively, survived the tragedy.

“It was the first time in two weeks that I had taken my family to the beach.

“We didn’t go often, maybe once or twice a month, but since it was the last week of the year-end school holiday, I decided to take them there.

“I remember grabbing Zulaikha’s arm when her cradle got entangled between the tree branches while Fairuz held on to a tree when the waves struck.

“I sometimes hear my children’s screams before I sleep and when I encounter things that remind me of them,” he says, adding that his family has never set foot on Pantai Pasir Panjang since.

He and Jamilah were blessed with a son, Mohd Zikri, in May 2006.

Of the 52 people in Penang who were killed by the tsunami, 34 were on Pantai Pasir Panjang.

Related stories:

Remembering Tsunami 2004: The future’s not safe

Remembering Tsunami 2004: Diary of a disaster psychiatrist 

Remembering Tsunami 2004: 'I wanted to know'

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