Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Malaysian PM returns from abroad and visits tsunami victims
KEPALA BATAS: "I am sorry I was not with you in your hour of grief. I am shocked and saddened by this tragedy."A grim-looking Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said this Tuesday when he met families who lost their loved ones to the killer tsunamis which struck the country’s northern coasts on Sunday. Seventy-one Malaysians died in the tragedy, which was triggered by a massive earthquake off the coast of Sumatra. Six of them were holidaymakers in southern Thailand. Penang recorded 50 deaths, the highest number of victims swallowed by the killer waves. The Prime Minister, who cut short a holiday abroad, arrived at about 5.30pm at the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas, where state officials briefed him about the tragedy. He then rushed to Permatang Damar Laut and then left for Kuala Muda on the mainland, a fishing village in his Kepala Batas parliamentary constituency. He also met local fishermen who lost their boats and sampans in the tidal waves. More than 1,000 people had gathered at the SK Kuala Muda field to meet Abdullah by the time he reached there at about 7.20pm. Offering words of comfort to those affected by the catastrophe, Abdullah also apologised for not being around when the disaster struck the country. "I am very sad about the tragedy and I extend my condolences to those who lost their loved ones. "I am also sad that I could not return home immediately," said the Prime Minister, who had planned a break in Europe with Datin Paduka Sri Endon Mahmood after his recent five-day official trip to India. They were supposed to return home on Jan 2. Abdullah said his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and other officials were constantly giving him updates on the tragedy but he felt he had to return home immediately to be with the people. "I want to have a first-hand information and personally see the extent of damage caused by these giant waves," he said to the applause of his listeners. He said there would be immediate help for those affected, advising them not to return yet to their crushed homes until it is ascertained the tsunami would not strike again. Speaking to reporters later, Abdullah said he could not believe that tsunamis had hit the country when he was first informed about the disaster. "I was shocked and could not believe that this thing could happen in Malaysia," he said. Asked what the country could learn from the tragedy, the Prime Minister said Malaysia would work with other nations to set up a regional networking system to alert one another of impending natural disasters. He said the collaboration was needed because the countries affected by Sunday’s tsunamis were caught by surprise although the earthquake off Sumatra was recorded much earlier. "I will write to my counterparts to extend our condolences. At the same time, I will suggest to them to establish this networking system so that we are prepared for major disasters in future." In Bukit Mertajam, Housing and Local Housing Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting said Malaysia had sent 20 men from the Fire and Rescue Department and the SMART team to help Indonesian authorities in Acheh. "However, their departure will not affect our search and rescue operations here, especially in Penang and Kedah. "We have enough manpower in the country and so far 1,110 personnel have been deployed in the search and rescue operations with 626 from Penang alone," he told reporters after paying his respects to tsunami victims in Berapit.