Boy watches as family drowns: Holiday safety and childhood trauma tips

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"He saw how one by one, his parents and three siblings were sucked by the strong current, making him an orphan in a blink of an eye."

It’s the holiday season and during this time, many families round up their loved ones and set off on family trips.

On Saturday (19 December), a holidaying family of six who chose to picnic at the Belukar Bukit waterfall in Hulu Terengganu, Malaysia experienced an unthinkable tragedy.

Nine-year-old Mohammed Hasif Abdul Halim could only watch in horror as his parents and three sisters drowned in front of him, during the picnic, according to Yahoo news.

The waterfall has areas that are up to 10m deep and visitors are warned to be extra careful. While it is a scenic spot, popular for picnics, the waterfall poses a deadly hazard for swimmers as whirlpools formed by opposing currents in the river have been reported.

The victims were Abdul Halim Samian, 44, his wife Nurul Adila Awang, 39, and their three daughters, Nurul Arifah, 16, Nurul Hidayah Aina, 11, and Nurul Izah, 10.

Their surviving son, Mohd Hasif did not join them in the water and was instead, playing near the bank.

drowning Boy watches as family drowns: Holiday safety and childhood trauma tips

The remains of the family were buried together.

The nearby Fire and Rescue station’s commander of operations, Mohd Zuraidi Yusof, stated that they believed the family had gone to the waterfall around 10.30am, a time during which few others are present.

The commander added that “We believe they tried to save each other from drowning after a sudden rapid current above the waterfall brought down a huge column of water and swept the five away”.

Mohd Zuraidi said that the Fire and Rescue Department officials were alerted around 11.35am, and arrived at the scene around 12.20pm.

The commander reported that through the efforts on the part by members of the public and rescue officials, all the bodies were retrieved by 12.37pm. He added that the bodies were handed over to police and were then brought to the nearby Hulu Terengganu Hospital for a post mortem.

Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Seri (Chief Minister of State) Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman has called on authorities to heighten awareness and observation of recreational sites and national parks in the state with emphasis on the holiday and monsoon season.

The incident left the boy heavily traumatised.

Mohd Hasif’s aunt, Dr Siti Sabariah Samian, said her nephew had become very quiet and refused to talk to anyone after the tragedy in a report by The Star.

Reportedly, the boy walks away when the incident is brought up around him as he does not want to be reminded of what happened.

Dr Siti mentions that her nephew “remembers every single bit of what happened. He saw how one by one, his parents and three siblings were sucked by the strong current, making him an orphan in a blink of an eye.”

It was only after the dawn prayers on Sunday morning that Mohd Hasif cried for the first time, and he took his first proper meal in the afternoon.

Dr Siti wants her nephew to come back with her to Selangor to stay with her family, adding that, “This is something that we believe he will never forget but by being with my sons, hopefully, they can support and help him recover.” 

Childhood trauma is not to be taken lightly.

Do note the common reactions display by children after a traumatic event and seek help

Here are some common symptoms:

  • Feeling fearful, worried or sad
  • Sleep problems or nightmares
  • Changes in appetite, eating problems
  • Difficulty with concentrating (e.g. problems with schoolwork)
  • Being easily startled or ‘edgy’
  • Being irritable or aggressive
  • Having thoughts about the event ‘pop up’ at unexpected times
  • Repeatedly talking or thinking about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding places or things associated with the traumatic event
  • Complaining of headaches, tummy aches or other minor illnesses
  • Refusing to go to school or go out

Younger children may also display certain behaviours after a traumatic event, which include:

  • Clinging to parents or other adults
  • Fear of the dark or being alone
  • Having regressive behaviours (e.g. bedwetting, thumb sucking)
  • Crying or throwing tantrums
  • Playing in a repeated way about the event or accident

Do seek help when needed:

Parents, please do watch your little ones very closely especially if you are travelling this holiday season. If you choose to stay near a body of water, do follow water safety rules very closely.

Keep a close eye on your little ones when travelling in foreign countries — never allow them to wander off by themselves, even if you can still see them.

We hope you stay safe this holiday season.

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