Penang flood victims count their losses

Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor wading through flood waters at Kampung Tanjung Putus in Permatang Pauh yesterday during their visit to Penang. PHOTO: BERNAMA

When flood waters started seeping into their homes on Saturday night, many of the families in Taman Mutiara, a quiet residential neighbourhood in Bukit Mertajam, were out for dinner on bustling Penang Island, a half-hour's drive away.

Schoolteacher Teh Yith Wah, 61, only discovered the flood when she arrived home at 11pm. By then, the water was knee-deep.

"We parked the car on higher ground nearby and walked home, wading through the water," she told The Straits Times yesterday as she dried a chair with a piece of cloth. But there was little they could salvage.

"We have had floods in the past, and my beds were already made to be 18 inches (46cm) above ground. But this time, the water went up to our chests," she added.

Refusing to leave their home, Madam Teh and her husband were the only ones in their street who stayed behind at the weekend, sleeping on the top bunk of their double-decker beds and walking through flood waters to get food from restaurants 500m away.

More than 15 hours of non-stop rain in Penang state at the weekend claimed seven lives and drove more than 7,000 people from their homes and into flood relief centres.

On Penang Island, where waters up to 4m high subsided more quickly, the tedious work of clearing and cleaning up roads began on Sunday. "By now, 80 per cent of the fallen trees have been cut up and removed from roads, with the city council focusing on cleaning up the mud and piles of rubbish accumulated from destroyed furniture and items," Penang Island Mayor Maimunah Mohd Sharif told The Straits Times yesterday.

But in the worst-hit areas on Penang's mainland territory such as Bukit Mertajam, the flood waters only began receding on Monday.

The state authorities began clearing the roads yesterday, sending excavators to remove the mud and fire trucks to wash the streets.

"Most of the council workers are also affected by the floods. We are short on manpower as they, too, need to clean up their homes," said Seberang Perai municipal councillor Joshua Woo.


Many living in Bukit Mertajam town could only head home yesterday to mop up the water and clear out their damaged belongings.

"All our things are gone. No bed. No chair to sit on. It is all gone," said Ms Mullai Jaganathan, 45.

Many of the residents said their homes are not insured, leaving them unable to cope with the financial impact of their losses.

Relief centres set up by the state government with donations from non-governmental organisations are providing families with mattresses, pillows and blankets, as well as food and water.

Prime Minister Najib Razak visited Penang yesterday and announced that the federal government had allocated RM1 billion (S$323 million) for flood mitigation projects in Penang, but only RM150 million worth of projects have been approved.

At a press conference also attended by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, Datuk Seri Najib said the projects are likely to be completed only several years down the road.

For now, those affected by the floods can only count their losses.

"What can we do? I am a bit disappointed that no one came to help us. We have nothing left here," said Ms Mullai, a housewife.

On Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the federal government was committed to providing aid to all the flood victims, including financial aid.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2017, with the headline 'Penang flood victims count their losses'. Print Edition | Subscribe