Penang flood victims count their losses as they return home

People walking in the floodwater at Taman Desa Murni in Sungai Dua.
People walking in the floodwater at Taman Desa Murni in Sungai Dua.PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK
People cleaning mud away from their shop after a flood in Georgetown, Penang.
People cleaning mud away from their shop after a flood in Georgetown, Penang.PHOTO: REUTERS
A man walks through a muddy road after a flood in George Town, Penang, on Nov 6, 2017.
A man walks through a muddy road after a flood in George Town, Penang, on Nov 6, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BUKIT MERTAJAM - When floodwaters started seeping into their homes on Saturday night (Nov 4), many of the families in Taman Mutiara, a quiet residential neighbourhood in Bukit Mertajam were out for dinner in 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 nearby on higher ground and walked home wading through the water," she told The Straits Times on Tuesday as she dried a chair with a cloth. But there was little they could salvage.

"We've had floods in the past and my beds are already made 18 inches 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 on their street who stayed behind over the weekend, sleeping on the top bunk of their double-decker beds and walking through floodwaters to get food from restaurants half a kilometre away.

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

On Penang island, where the up to four-metre high waters subsided more quickly, the tedious work of clearing and cleaning up roads already 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 Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif told ST on Tuesday.

 
 
 

But in the worst-hit areas on Penang's mainland territory like Bukit Mertajam, floodwaters only began receding on Monday.

State authorities began clearing the roads on Tuesday, sending excavators to remove the mud and firetrucks 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 on Tuesday to mop up the water and clear out their water-damaged belongings.

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

Many of the residents ST spoke to said their homes are not covered by insurance, leaving them unable to cope with the financial impact of their loss.

Relief centers set up by the state government with donations from NGOs are providing families with mattresses, pillows and blankets, as well as food and water.

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

There are no government estimates yet on the total cost of damage from the floods.