BALIK PULAU, Dec 30 — What started as a windy night escalated into a windstorm with speeds of up to 50kph last night, leaving almost 500 houses here damaged in its wake.
This morning, residents in several parts in the southwest of Penang island awoke to scenes of devastation around them, with roofs ripped off of wooden houses and fallen trees everywhere.
The villages of Sungai Rusa, Permatang Pasir, Kuala Sungai Pinang, Sungai Pinang and Kuala Jalan Baru were affected by the strong winds that started at about 8pm and stopped only at 2.30am.
More than 200 people, whose homes were severely damaged, have been evacuated from the area to three relief centres set up last night during the storm.
Teluk Bahang state assemblyman Datuk Shah Headan Hussain Ayob Shah, who was present to assist storm victims, said those affected were placed at three relief centres — a mosque, a school and his service centre — after the storm subsided last night.
"This has never happened before but responses by the police and other government agencies have been prompt to assist victims to evacuate to safety," he said.
He said initial reports by residents showed Sungai Rusa is the worst hit with a total 240 houses damaged, followed by Permatang Pasir with 120 houses damaged, Jalan Baru (17 houses), Sungai Pinang (20 houses), Kuala Sungai Pinang (10 houses) and Kuala Jalan Baru (17 houses).
"That brings the total damaged homes to 441 houses but we expect it to reach 500 houses as we are still receiving reports from affected residents," he told reporters when visiting one of the victim's damaged house.
No serious casualties were reported except for a motorist who was hospitalised after his car was hit by a falling tree.
Shah Headan said there were also rumours of a tsunami being spread last night and causing more panic, necessitating his visit to all the fishing villages to calm them.
"The wind along the seafront was not as strong as inland and all fishermen out at sea were not affected at all," he said.
Today, his aides will assist affected victims to assess the damages to their homes.
"The Implementation Coordination Unit of the Prime Minister's Department will also be evaluating the losses faced by the villagers and fund the repair works," he said.
Damaged homes will be categorised according to severity and he will be applying to the federal government for funding to repair the damages.