43 stranded on Penang’s Bukit Bendera finally rescued

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GEORGE TOWN: Forty-three people, comprising tourists and workers, stranded at the summit of Bukit Bendera here since Saturday due to the heavy rains and strong winds in Penang, have been rescued.

Thirty-one of the 43 victims were airlifted by a Penang Fire and Rescue Department helicopter while the rest made their way down themselves.

Timur Laut district police chief ACP Anuar Omar said the 31 victims, including elderly women and nine children, were airlifted to the Federal Reserve Unit field in Jalan Padang Tembak here, with the last of the three flights arriving at 2.38pm.

“The rescue operation started at 10am assisted by agencies like the police, Civil Defence Force, Malaysian Armed Forces and Penang Hospital staff with the cooperation of Bukit Bendera Corporation.

“We had to enlist the Fire and Rescue Department’s helicopter because the land route was very risky due to landslides and uprooted trees,” he told reporters.

He said the 12 others, comprising seven men and five women, made their way down on foot and arrived at the foothill at 4.30pm.

He said 36 of the victims were members of a fitness club while the rest, workers who lived at the summit of the hill.

“The 36 victims had gone up Bukit Bendera for a religious function on Saturday but were stranded because the funicular railway servicing the hill could not operate due to the severe weather conditions. They requested for help.

“They stayed at a hotel at the hill top and the other seven were from the families of two workers there. These families sought refuge at the Bukit Bendera police station when they ran out of food and there was also no electricity supply to their homes.

None of the victims suffered any injuries and the hotel provided food for them, he said.

Penang Fire and Rescue Department Security Unit head Azhar Mohamad said they had much difficulty airlifting the victims because there was hardly any suitable spot for the helicopter to land.

“It took us a full 15 minutes to make a landing and the victims were brought down in three trips,” he said.

One of the rescued victims, Fathiah Ghazali, when met at the field, said she was very grateful that one of the workers, who was at the foothill when the disaster struck, was willing to help buy milk and diapers for her two-year-old son.

She said social media played a great role as their predicament went viral after she sent a message to her sister on Facebook.

“The worker braved the treacherous conditions to help out. It took him almost six hours to reach us. I am very grateful,” she said, adding that her family had to seek refuge at the police station because their quarters at the Bukit Bendera Mosque, where her husband is the imam, was badly affected by the storm.

Another victim, Wong Suee Fei, 33, said she, her husband and two children also had to seek refuge at the police station.

She said the family had been living there for five years and had never experienced anything like this before.

“I wish to thank all parties for rescuing us. I was very worried about my son (aged nine) and his sister (four) because they were scared and food was running out,” she said.

One of the tourists, S Usharani, 56, said she and the 35 other club members had gone up the hill to perform prayers at a temple there and were staying at the hotel.

“We were due to come down on Sunday but disaster struck. The hotel staff took care of us well and I want to thank all the agencies involved for rescuing us,” she said.