Without Warning

Charlie has worked as a water-sports instructor on Penang's Feringgi beach for 15 years. At 10:15 a.m. on Dec. 26, he received a call on his cell phone from a friend in the northern resort of Langkawi who had just watched waves destroy Pantai Cenang beach. Charlie looked out on his own stretch and saw about 100 local and foreign tourists, but didn't feel he had the authority to sound an alarm. "Then I saw a white line across the horizon," Charlie says, "and knew something was terribly wrong." Charlie started bellowing, the tourists who heard him fled to safety—"and we...

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