'I have not stopped looking for my daughter'

Zailan Abdul Mani cuts a forlorn figure as he watches a search-and-rescue (SAR) team scouring the murky water of Sungai Rompin at Kampung Aur near Bukit Ibam here for his missing 23-year-old daughter, Nur Hafizah.

Friday marked 22 days since Nur Hafizah, the second child of three siblings, had gone missing when she was swept away by currents while crossing a suspension bridge over the rain-swollen Sungai Rompin on March 3.

Since the incident, Zailan, 49, has yet to return home to Kampung Aur Seberang. He spends the whole day waiting near the riverbank for news of his missing daughter. Sometimes he walks along the river alone at night.

The devoted father said he could not sleep at night as his thoughts were always on Nur Hafizah, and each time he closed his eyes, her image would flash through his mind.

"I have been waiting along the riverbank daily. Even at night, I will shine my torchlight along the riverbank looking for my daughter. 

"People may think I have lost my mind.

"I'm praying hard to find my daughter, or at least her remains, because I'm prepared for anything," he told the New Sunday Times.

Recollecting the March 3 incident, Zailan said he was at home packing the family's belongings and that Nur Hafizah and her other siblings had moved to the flood relief centre at SK Kampung Aur about 3pm as water began to inundate the nearby settlements.

"I was putting away some things in the higher section of the house when someone informed me that my daughter had fallen into the river.

"I ran towards the river, but the suspension bridge had collapsed due to the strong currents. The suspension bridge's cables had snapped.

"I was later informed that her uncle had also been swept away, but he managed to hold on to the tree branches along the river before villagers rescued him.

"I have not stopped looking for my daughter and will continue until she is found.

"People have been talking about the events before my daughter went missing.

"As a father, it is very painful for me to listen to what is being shared. I do not want to remember the tragic moments involving my daughter," he said before walking to a nearby hall.

Nur Hafizah's aunt, Roszawati Mohamad, 45, said Zailan was quiet after the incident and had not returned home since leaving the flood relief centre.

"He rests and spends the night at the hall near the river, and will eat food provided by relatives. He will be at the riverbank from morning to night, and sometimes even until midnight."

The family used to stay in Bukit Ibam, but moved here to stay with their grandmother at Kampung Aur Seberang after Zailan's wife died in 2015.

"I operate the SK Kampung Aur canteen, and Nur Hafizah used to assist me," Roszawati said.

She said Nur Hafizah, a religious teacher with the Pahang Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council, taught Orang Asli students in the nearby villages.

"If she is not on duty, she will help me at the canteen. She is friendly with everyone, and the entire village misses her.

"Nur Hafizah's red shawl, which she wore on the day she went missing, was found entangled near the suspension bridge when the structure was lifted (out of the water) on the 17th day of the search operation."

She said Nur Hafizah followed her uncle home at 4am to rescue her cats after learning that flood water had entered her home.

"Everyone had stopped her from going, but she followed one of her uncles, and the incident happened when they were crossing the bridge. 

"The bridge was unstable due to the strong currents and high water level. Her uncle could not help her," she said, adding that the village had been severely hit by the floods this year, with only the roofs visible.

Roszawati said news of the missing youth went viral, with several non-governmental organisations teaming up with the enforcement agencies and the nearby villagers to search along the river.

On March 21, Rompin police chief Deputy Superintendent Mohd Azahari Mukhtar said the SAR operation that began on March 3 ended on March 16. 

The Muadzam Shah fire station, the Civil Defence Force, the navy and nearby villagers are now assisting in the search for the missing person.

Several heart-wrenching videos shared on social media show Zailan waiting daily near the damaged suspension bridge, where Nur Hafizah was last seen.

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