Malaysian student Paul Tiong Lee Foong turned around and ran for safety when he saw the torrential waters of the Japanese tsunami wash over the harbour towards him.
The 24-year-old maritime engineering intern, who had been missing for some days, said he panicked like never before when he saw the wall of water approaching him.
“This kind of experience, I won’t forget it,” Tiong said when met by reporters after arriving at KL Inter-national Airport (KLIA) from Japan yesterday.
He was met by Wisma Putra officers and his sister Elsie Susan.
Tiong had been on shore leave in Sendai, Japan, just a month into his six-month internship onboard the cargo vessel Thailine as a Sarawak Maritime Academy student.
Tiong was going back to the vessel when the tsunami hit Sendai Port after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which decimated Japan’s northeastern shores on March 11.
Tiong said he and his shipmates, two Chinese nationals, ran away from the shore to get to the nearest building.
“We ran and climbed to the roof and waited until the tsunami retreated,” he said.
He was stranded on the roof overnight for about six hours before they could evacuate themselves to the nearest shelter.
“We found our way to the police station and we talked to the Japanese police officers and they helped us to the immigration centre,” he said.
He could only contact his family in Sarawak four days after his ordeal using a Japanese girl’s mobile phone.
“I spoke first to my mother. She told me she was very happy to know that I was safe and that everyone was happy too,” he said.
Tiong said he did not have any immediate plans for his studies but was determined to complete his internship.
He also thanked the Japanese government for giving him food and the Malaysian government for helping to get him back.
“The lesson I learnt is to try to keep calm so that you can analyse and help yourself stay alive,” he said.