It was December 26th, 2004. People were in a holiday mood for a number of
reasons. It was the day after Christmas, a Sunday. In Malaysia, schoolchildren
were also enjoying their end-of-year holidays.
On Penang island, the hotels
were fully-booked and people thronged the beaches. Besides Malaysians,
holiday-makers came from all over the world to the resort hotels in Ferringhi
Beach and Tanjung Bunga. The Dillon family had come all the way from Europe to
escape from the coldness of winter. They had arrived the night before but were
up early to swim in the sea and eat a late breakfast in the Crystal Restaurant
on Fisherman's Pier.
While enjoying their Asian breakfast in a cosy private room facing the water,
they saw a strange sight through the glass windows. People were gathering on the
beach and pointing at the sea which was receding quickly into the horizon. Some
people were excitedly picking up shell and even fish that had been exposed. Then
Mr Dillon heard the Japanese man at the table next to theirs shouting `Tsunami!
Tsunami!'. The Japanese man and his family jumped from their seats,
gesticulating wildly to everyone, and dashed for the exit. Although no one
understood Japanese, Mr and Mrs Dillon sensed that their lives were in danger.
All of a sudden a gigantic wall of water came crashing through the restaurant
windows, knocking over every person and object. Mr Dillon and his wife grabbed
their two children's hands. However, Tom Dillon's little hand slipped from his
mother's grip and he was tossed by the waves. By some miracle, somebody saw his
head bobbing above the water and snatched him up in time. Just as forcefully,
the waves pulled back, tugging along whatever it could. Fortunately, the Dillons
and everyone else in the restaurant had escaped onto drier ground. They dashed
out to the street, shaken and bruised by he onslaught of the tsunami. The
children, overcome by shock at first, burst into tears. Everyone literally
trembled with fear.
The survivors tried to go as far inland as they could. They had to trudge in
thick mud all the way. Seeking refuge in a hill-top hotel, some even tried to
check in there instead of returning to their beachfront accommodations.
The devastating tsunami of 26th December 2004 killed more than 60 people in
Malaysia. Its seismic force was most destructive in Aceh in northern Sumatra,
the western part of Thailand, parts of Sri Lanka, and India. There were also
casualties in Somalia, the Maldives and Myanmar. Altogether, about a quarter of
a million people were killed, thousands went missing, and more than half a
million lost their homes. Never has a natural disaster traumatized so many