'Disaster tourists' throng flood devastated areas in Malaysia

Jalan Padang Garong in Kota Baru is clogged with traffic, mostly from outside the state. -- PHOTO: THE STAR / ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Jalan Padang Garong in Kota Baru is clogged with traffic, mostly from outside the state. -- PHOTO: THE STAR / ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA KRAI (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A large number of people are converging in Kelantan, bringing welcome aid to the flood victims. But there's another large number of people who are coming in and they are not welcome.

These are the sightseers who want to see for themselves the scenes of flood devastation, who post selfies and other "I was there" pictures on their Facebook pages or Twitter timelines.

These "disaster tourists" are adding to the woes of the people by coming in large groups and clogging up areas with their vehicles.

They are also getting in the way of services and volunteers who are trying desperately to reach the victims.

Those distributing aid to the flood victims here say their jobs have been hampered by these "sightseers".

"They choke up roads with their cars," they said.

A military officer, who only wanted to be known as Yan, said the roads in Manek Urai here were congested with casual visitors when priority should be given to vehicles bringing in aid.

"To bring 20 to 30 cars for a visit to the area only worsens the situation," he said.

"The roads are already congested with victims' cars as most are covered in mud and debris. These tourists shouldn't be driving into the rural areas nor be there at all," the officer said.

The bad traffic flow left volunteer doctor Beh Xi Chin and his team stuck on a bridge for almost three hours.

"People here have lost everything," he said. "There are some who are doing everything they can to help these people, while there are others who are taking advantage of the situation," he added.

Dr Beh hoped that the authorities would help control the "unwanted congestion".

Volunteers from a Malacca-based non-government organisation echoed this sentiment, saying they were shocked with "the mentality of some people".

"Villagers from other areas came to the affected areas to take away supplies that were meant for the victims," one of them claimed.

Eighth Army Brigade commander Jen Datuk Azmi Yahya confirmed that there were large numbers of "unwanted tourists", causing added traffic problems.

"Our work continues, but the process is being slowed because of this," he said.

Malaysian Red Crescent Society national disaster management committee member James Kon said that people who were not involved in relief efforts should not get in the way.

"They should stay away for now. Some of the roads are not safe as well," he added.

Twitter user @melatienida, whose parents hail from Kelantan, tweeted a discreetly taken picture of curious onlookers in Kota Baru.

"Banjir (flood) became part of the tourist attraction. People come to this spot just to see it!" she shared.

On Instagram, one user posted a video showing fast-flowing flood waters in Seberang Perak from her account, and included the #mybanjir hashtag: "Trip to see the floods. Oil palm plantation becomes a river. Water rushing past even though it's blazing hot."

When another user asked if she was a resident there, she replied she had just travelled from Sitiawan to see the floods for herself.