Flashback #Star50: When the killer waves struck


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IT was a heart-breaking day in Malaysian history. On Dec 26,2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami struck and the Pearl of the Orient was not spared.

Penang was the hardest hit among other states in Malaysia when the tsunami raged in this part of the world. It was triggered by a 9.3 magnitude undersea earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

Out of 68 deaths recorded in Malaysia, 52 of the fatalities happened in Penang, with 34 lives taken in Pantai Pasir Panjang, Balik Pulau.

The deaths in Penang were said to include many picnickers and children who were playing on the beaches.

It was a staggering scene for the witnesses and survivors that day.

“I had never seen such a wave. I knew something was wrong as the wave was dark and as high as a coconut tree, ” one ice cream seller, who was near the Teluk Bahang beach, was quoted as saying in The Star.

Tragic: The Star’s report on the 2004 earthquake and tsunami.Tragic: The Star’s report on the 2004 earthquake and tsunami.

Although the damage in Penang was not as extensive as those seen in other countries that were in the direct path of the tsunami, houses in fishing villages along the coastal areas of Balik Pulau and Batu Ferringhi were destroyed.

Tidal waves sent motorcycles crashing and cars washed with mud at stretches along Gurney Drive.

Bus driver Zulkifli Mohd Noor, who was in Balik Pulau, lost five children in the tragedy.

As it was the year end school holiday then, the family was at the beach when the waves came and swept them away.

In Batu Ferringhi, businessman A. Suppiah almost lost his daughter S. Thulaasi, then 22 days old.

The huge waves smashed into Suppiah’s shop house and lifted out a mattress with the sleeping baby on it into the sea.

Luckily, the second wave brought the mattress with baby still on it, back to the beach.

Now a teenager, Thulaasi is doing well in her studies, scoring three As, four Bs and two Cs in the PT3 examination.

In conjunction with our 50th anniversary, we take a look back at historic moments and personalities. See more here: bit.ly/star50flashback

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