Families return to Kelantan to help as flood waters recede

One of the badly hit areas in Kelantan, where rain has abated after heavy flooding in the past fortnight. Tens of thousands of people have been driven to shelters, where they remain amid fears of new floods. Many residents are not taking any chances
One of the badly hit areas in Kelantan, where rain has abated after heavy flooding in the past fortnight. Tens of thousands of people have been driven to shelters, where they remain amid fears of new floods. Many residents are not taking any chances and are stocking up on food supplies.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Many head to damaged homes with foodstuff, water for stricken members

As the  number of Malaysians evacuated in the Peninsula's east coast states continues to rise, many of their family members are travelling home to help out as officials step up aid to the areas overwhelmed by severe floods.

On a Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Baru yesterday afternoon, passengers chalked up excess baggage fees as they checked in bags of biscuits and boxes of instant noodles and canned food.

Kuala Lumpur-based chef Mohd Nor Husaini Hasnan, 29, paid RM500 (S$190) to lug home some 75kg of dry foodstuff for his parents, whose two-storey home in Pasir Pekan, outside Kota Baru, was almost submerged.

Others paid even more in cash they would not otherwise be able to withdraw in Kota Baru as ATMs had been damaged and banks stayed shut.

These upheavals in Malaysia's worst floods in decades have seen 158,476 people evacuated in Kelantan, 49,978 in Pahang and 25,775 in Terengganu so far.

Prime Minister Najib Razak visited several badly hit areas in Kelantan yesterday, as rain abated after heavy flooding in the past fortnight drove tens of thousands to shelters, where they remain amid fears of new floods.

Singapore Armed Forces C-130 aircraft also delivered water purification units to Kota Baru to ensure flood victims have safe drinking water, a move that came a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke with Mr Najib.

Although Kota Baru roads reopened yesterday, the signs of damage remain: A faint water line stretches for several kilometres along building walls, with chest-high debris in some areas.

One shop that remained open was KeyMa Trading, a cellphone repair shop. Owner Mohd Zaki Mohammad, 36, said the floods reminded him of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, when many people were left in the dark for days about the fate of their loved ones.

His wife, Ms Azimah Yahya, 34, said: "I'd been crying and crying for the last three days, not knowing how my family was doing. I couldn't get through to them, neither could my brother."

Her mother and five brothers live in Tanah Merah, one of the worst-hit areas, where telephone lines were damaged.

When they found out from relatives that the flood waters had receded yesterday, she made the 45-minute drive there, her car filled with biscuits, noodles and water.

Her family had to live on kueh and biscuits until supplies were sent by helicopter to a school that became a rescue centre.

Some have criticised the government for its perceived slow response.

The National Security Council, which oversees flood rescue and relief, said many village headmen and district officers whom it relied on for information could not give it in time because they were also victims of the flood.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said a post-mortem would be held to find out the cause of the floods.

Although Mr Zaki and his wife hope that forecasts of another wave of flooding will not come true, they are stocking up on food supplies.

"We had no warning when the floods came," he said, adding that he believes officials just want to play safe when they caution residents to expect another flood.

yanliang@sph.com.sg