KOTA KINABALU: The quiet Panimbawan water village here, which was hosting a wedding celebration, was rocked by a collision between two boats that killed six people.
Another 24 people who were rescued spoke of the chaos and uncertainty as they waited in pitch darkness after the crash at 10.45pm on Saturday at a lagoon off Sulaman in Tuaran about 50km from here.
Most of the survivors were heading for the wedding celebration.
"It happened so suddenly. I was thrown off the boat and found myself in the water. I panicked and screamed before I swam to a boat to save myself.
"Everywhere, people were screaming for help. I could not do anything but watch helplessly. Some bodies floated towards me. It was so dark, I just could not make anything out of it," said Dewi Ratna Sari Dirman, 25, who had gone to Pinambawan to attend her colleague's wedding.
She was rescued by villagers about 30 minutes later as search and rescue teams started to arrive shortly after 11pm.
Ratna, who is traumatised, is under observation at the Tuaran hospital.
She estimated that there were 20 people on the boat, which was returning to Serusup on the mainland when it collided with another boat.
Five of the casualties were females - Salomah Maid, 36, Nurqaseh Salim, five, Aziah Maidin, Ainol Hasnam and Nurul Azda. The ages of the last three women are not known.
The other victim was Wong Vun Chong, 47.
Except for Aziah who was from Kg Lok Nunuk in Tuaran, search and rescue workers said that most of the dead were not from the area.
Seven of the survivors are still hospitalised for various injuries, petrol ingestion and slight petrol burns.
The remaining 17 have been discharged from Tuaran Hospital.
Acting Tuaran district police chief Asst Supt Raji Hussin Suhodin said search and rescue operations ended at 1.30pm after they confirmed the number of people involved in the two boats - 20 in a boat heading to Panimbawan and 10 in the second boat from Panimbawan to Kg Surasip along the Surasip River.
Initial investigation revealed that the two boats had no lights or adequate safety features such as life jackets.
State Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Hajiji Mohd Noor, who is Tuaran assemblyman, has ordered immediate assistance to the victims.
He called on the district office to look into safety aspects of traditional boats used by villagers.