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GEORGE TOWN: Penang was in chaos yesterday as an hour-long thunderstorm wreaked havoc in several areas here, killing two people and injuring nine.
One of the dead was identified as 46-year-old Jahir Hussain Sulaiman, a co-driver of a lorry carrying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders who was crushed by a falling pole.
Jahir is believed to have died of head injuries after his lorry was hit by a 40m section of a pole which ran alongside the 21-storey Menara Umno in Jalan Macalister.
In Air Itam, 32-year-old farmer Wong Tze Chow died after being hit by a falling tree on his way home from work.
The 6.45pm thunderstorm resulted in traffic congestion all over the state. Six cars were seen crushed by the giant white pole, which officials said was a lightning conductor.
Old trees all over the island were uprooted and fell on vehicles as well as private and public properties.
Jalan Macalister was chaotic as hundreds of people ran screaming from the Umno building towards nearby Jalan Zainal Abidin and adjoining roads to take shelter.
Seberang Prai was not spared either with dozens of trees uprooted and roofs being blown off. Mainland-bound traffic on the Penang Bridge was reduced to a standstill for one hour after uprooted trees along the bridge exit in Prai blocked the three-lane stretch.
A car, a van and a motorcycle were damaged after being hit by one of the uprooted trees. No one was injured.
One of the victims, who wished to be identified as Nur, 26, said she was driving to her office in Prai Industrial Zone from here when she heard a loud crack on the left of the road.
"It was raining heavily and suddenly a huge tree crashed on the windscreen of my car. I rushed out from the car and I am grateful that I was not injured."
Traffic congestion on the mainland eased at 8.20pm after firefighters cleared most of the fallen trees.
As at 10.30pm, the Fire and Rescue Department in Seberang Prai received more than 20 reports following the thunderstorm. On the island, police received similar reports as well as nine reports of injuries.
State police chief Datuk Abdul Rahim Hanafi said Jalan Macalister was the worst hit.
"We urge everyone to remain calm as we are clearing the affected areas. All will be back to normal soon."
Mohd Daud Abdul Kudus, 30, of Jalan Makloom, who was having coffee with friends at a coffee shop opposite the Umno building dashed out as soon as he heard a loud boom.
"I was shocked to see a lorry carrying gas cylinders under the pole," Daud said, adding that passers-by near Masjid Pakistan across the building ran to help those trapped in the crushed cars.
"The driver ran out of the lorry across the road, while another guy in the passenger's seat was motionless.
"A man rushed to his side, carried him across the road and tried to revive him. I hope he's all right," said the Nasi Kandar restaurant operator.
Wan Sau Kwong, 54, a dishwasher near the restaurant, said she saw the incident unfold before her eyes.
"The pole did not bend as everyone thought. I saw the pole sliding downwards, with its tip tilting sideways before it crashed onto the lorry," she said, adding that the wind was blowing so strongly that the dishes she was washing were strewn everywhere.
In Gelugor, homemaker Shirley Lai, 51, had a narrow escape while driving home in Jalan Yeap Chor Ee, Bukit Gambir, when a tree fell behind her car, after she dropped her daughter off in Island Glades for a tuition class.
"The tree fell behind my car. Thank God, it didn't hit my car. The other car owner was not so lucky." Additional reporting by Melissa Darlyene Chow, Balvin Kaur and Rahmat Khairulrijal