Conflicting messages, bulging rivers add to flood misery in Penang


KEPALA BATAS (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - As Penangites struggle with hip-deep floodwaters and an uncertain number of days until the situation returns to normal, they now have to deal with different flood warnings from two state excos, which may hamper clean-up efforts.

Penang Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee Chairman Phee Boon Poh said in a text message to reporters that the Seberang Perai Utara district had been put on Red Alert after the Sungai Muda riverbanks burst.

But his colleague Chow Kon Yeow, who is the Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee Chairman, said the state Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) had checked and confirmed that it was not true.

The 200-km river is the longest in Kedah. It provides water supply to Kedah and Penang and has a number of tributaries such as Sungai Chepit, Sungai Ketil and Sungai Sedim. The Sungai Muda basin is a vital rice-producing area for Kedah.

To top it off, Muda Agricultural Development Authority (Mada) reported that Muda Dam's capacity had hit 103 per cent since Sunday (Nov 5), forcing its excess water to continuously rush down its spillway and into the Muda River basin, which meets the sea in north Seberang Prai.

Although it had not rained since Sunday morning, mainland Penangites were still hip-deep in water. Many areas, especially in north and central Seberang Prai, were still submerged despite the fair weather due to water from the mountains.

Rivers carrying water from as far as the Greater Ulu Muda catchment area in Kedah are keeping the numerous irrigation canals and monsoon drains in Seberang Prai filled and preventing the flood from receding in low-lying areas.

The level of many rivers remain near the danger mark while Sungai Muda, which borders Penang and Kedah, has burst its banks in Seberang Prai and Sungai Petani. This has led to murky water from the river mixing with the clearer floodwater still covering most parts of north Seberang Prai.

Due to the high water level and difficulty for the floodwater to flow into the river, many low-lying areas are still flooded.

It was a sobering trip for Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who visited this region on Monday. He visited flood victims staying in three evacuation centres in Penanti, Tasek Gelugor and Kepala Batas, and his convoy drove through many areas where rivers, streams and irrigation canals along the road were filled nearly to bursting point.

On the Jalan Permatang Manggis bridge crossing Sungai Jarak, 2km south of Tasek Gelugor town, his convoy stopped for a minute.

Dr Ahmad Zahid and Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who was in his car, paused to watch the river pouring unhindered onto the land as the radial gate of the river had broken.

At a press conference, Dr Ahmad Zahid said he would mobilise the army's Engineering Corp to repair a broken river bund in the Tasek Gelugor area.

"I have discussed it with the Chief Minister. If we follow the methods used by the state Drainage and Irrigation Department, the repairs will take about two weeks.

"That's too long. More rain is forecast to fall. We'll use the army to repair it quickly," he said.

Lim thanked the Federal Government for its quick action, adding that there were several tributaries to Muda and Prai Rivers where the river bund had broken and water was flowing onto land.

Lim also showed, from his handphone, videos of the broken bunds where rivers were flowing out and stressed that they were not broken dams or reservoirs. Since Sunday, such videos have been making their rounds with claims that a reservoir on the Penang mainland had broken.

"Don't scare people. If a reservoir broke, the floods will be much worse," Lim said.