KUALA LUMPUR: At least 53 people were killed, scores injured and 34 reported missing in several parts of Malaysia when tidal waves of up to five metres high hit the coastal regions as a result an earthquake in Sumatra.
Officials have described it as the worst natural disaster in Malaysia’s history.
Penang was the worst hit, with 38 reported dead and 30 missing at press time.
In Kedah, 12 more were reported dead and three missing, in Perak two dead and one missing and Selangor one dead.
A Malaysian husband and wife were also reported killed while diving in the Emerald Cave off Thailand’s southern coast after a huge tsunami struck.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he felt sad about the lives that were lost in the disaster and extended his condolences to the bereaved families.
He has asked Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop to give financial help to the victims.
According to the Meteorological Services Department Seismology division, preliminary information showed the location of the earthquake's epicentre at Latitude 3.1° North and Longitude 95.5° East, some 680km from Kuala Lumpur and 590km from Penang.
The first of the tidal waves, which hit the coastal areas at different times, was reported at about noon, about three hours after the tremors were felt in Malaysia.
However, a Penang Meteorological Services spokesman said the waves could have hit Penang shores earlier, before 11am.
Waves reaching 3m was reported at Batu Maung and between 2.4m and 3m at Batu Ferringhi.
The spokesman said the waves could have gone above 4.6m, particularly at enclosed bay areas.
Unconfirmed reports from the public said the waves at Langkawi had hit as high as 8m.
The seawaters swept more than 150m inland, drowning boatmen, holidaymakers and other people in its path.
Boats were capsized or tossed up onto the roads, and houses and other property destroyed.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is also the National Disaster Relief and Management committee chairman, has ordered the evacuation of residents in the coastal areas of Penang and Kedah due to concern that tidal waves might recur.
Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting has directed Fire and Rescue Department officers to go all out to help in the rescue work and to be ready if the waves were to hit again.
Earlier, between 9am and 9.30am, tremors lasting about one and two minutes were reported in all states except Malacca, Johor and Pahang.
The tremors sent occupants of many high-rise buildings scurrying out in fear, while in other premises the people were told to leave.
Real life sea drama from high-rises
PENANG: Several high-rise residents witnessed a real life high sea drama as giant waves as high as three metres lashed the shores of the island.
They saw boats being “swallowed” by the succession of waves which hit the island just after lunchtime yesterday.
The tidal wave left a trail of destruction, overturning motorcycles, moving concrete road dividers, cars and damaging homes along the coast.
It came five hours after high rise residents were rudely forced out of their beds at 9am following a tremor brought about by an earthquake in West Sumatra.
Engineer Brian Hoe, 34, said he saw six to seven fishing boats going under the tidal waves measuring 2.5m to 3m.
“I saw some of the smaller boats out-running the waves while the bigger boats went under the might of the waves,” he said.
Judo instructor Justin Khoo, 28, who stays at the 12th floor of the Sea Range Tower at Mount Pleasure, captured the tidal waves when they hit the shores.
“I came back from buying lunch at about 11.30am when I saw the swell of the waves building up,” he said.
“By the time I took three or four shots, I could hear from a distance away the screams of picnickers,” he said.
At least 60 boats capsized or were swept away by the waves off Tanjong Tokong coast.
Some fishing boats were washed ashore landing on roads. Motorcycles parked by the seafront were also not spared as the waters swept the machines away.The ferry service was not disrupted.