Rain Go away
The first three weeks of January 2009 will soon be history or herstory. I remember distinctly that a few weeks ago I was toasting to Merry Christmas and new year 2009. January seemed to become a runaway train. The speed we are going now we can might just well prepare for 2010 celebrations. The intensity of the wet season seemed to have caused a black hole in our time wallet causing precious seconds and minutes to disappear. Whatever time I have which should have been allocated for planning for the upcoming months has been washed away by the swift flood currents. Its my first experience in tackling potential disaster situations. Though Sri Aman had it easy compared to Kuching Division and Samarahan Division which saw more than 3500 families being moved to the evacuation centers. Our figures involved only the evacuation of 42 families at Pangkalan Pantu. It could have been more if the scattered string of longhouses in the Sri Aman District, Lingga and Pantu Sub Districts affected by the flood agreed to move. The flood water in these areas reached almost 3 feet but the occupants refused to leave their longhouses. Though it was their choice, our concern was their safety for if anything untowards happened to them, it will be hard to give assistance as the areas mentioned lacked proper road and communication access. Coordinating the various departments to spring into action is a tougher call - you have to think of your team's safety and well being too.
Rumah Ajon longhouse dwellers receiving the canvas within 48 hours of our visit
As Rumah Ajon longhouse was the first incident that we handled in my The Way It is Here post, I am happy to note our response to Rumah Ajon's request was within 48 hours. The recommendations by the Public Works Department to cover the area with canvas was acted on immediately for any delay in doing so would result in a serious landslide. We had also hoped that this would be the only case that our Disaster and Relief Committee has to handle - and boy, were we wrong. Rain started to fall the next day (10th January 2009) and it never stopped then.
Image of Pangkalan Pantu and Sungai Strap in Sri Aman on 9th January 2009 during our trip to Rumah Ajon, Pantu - notice safe level of water at the jetty
Water began to rise on 11th January 2009 at Pangkalan Pantu and the evacuation process began
The flood water level rose to dizzying heights
The villagers at the Pangkalan Pantu Jetty area had not expected the water to rise so fast and some were totally caught flat footed. Compare the level of water above at the Jetty - that was the height of the flood for the next few days
In other areas, reports of landslides trickled in. One longhouse in Mungu Sawa was affected as earth chunks destroyed the back portion of one of the longhouses there. I noticed the similiarity that it has with Rumah Ajon - the locality of the longhouse can be considered unsuitable (with that hill at the back) but I guess again that it the way it is here.
The back portion of the longhouse destroyed by the landslide
Part of the kitchen structure of the longhouse affected by the landslide
Another area which we recieved a distress call was a longhouse in Penghulu Tinggi's area at Stumbin, Lingga Sub District. Water came into the house and filled it up to almost two and half feet high
One of the longouse dwellers indicating the height of the flood water level which was almost beyond two feet
Some longhouse dwellers who were at home at that time managed to save their food stocks - the unlucky ones lost a season's supply of beras
Some thought of various ways to safe their furnitures by putting bricks to raise their furnitire's height - but as the water rose, I was thinking, were these folks not thinking of the best way to safe themselves? Maybe they thought its still safe as their house was two storey
Man made barrier against the might of nature - some of the longhouse dwellers quickly built barrier structures hoping that it can contain the incoming waters - okay I thought - what about the other entrances as this particular longhouse has twenty plus doors
Landslides incidents are a norm in our areas - some roads were experience minor landslide and we have to know this in advance so that it does not cut off supply routes
We would usually send out our team to investigate reported incidents, be it landslide, flooded houses - without fail, except when it was too risiky to do so. The team will then report the situation to the operations room
For longhouses affected, aid will be provided. In the above picture, our State Administrative Officer (Awang Syukri) obtains the details and data of the longhouse dwellers affected by the landslide incident.
Road conditions are also a factor in determining our mobility - especially in delivering aid or assessing reported incidents
Somethings you may think that having a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle you can cross the most treacherous terrain - one thing I discover is that the tyres on the vehicles we use for our daily administrative duties are not meant for the rough countryside
Sending aid using the lorries would not be the best solution - another team of rescuers would have to be sent to rescue these team. Another lesson learnt - if you are in a rescue team, make sure there is another back up team there to rescue you in case you get stuck.
Some of the flood victims have to make do at the evacuation centres which are managed by the District Office and the Welfare Department. Managing the families also poses another challenge as expectations on government assistance are quite high.
The most important thing is our officers' caring attitude. Here the District Officer Encik Mahri works tirelessly to understand the needs of the flood victims
Again, as the notorious rain clouds blew away over Sri Aman Division, I have nothing much to offer except praise for my colleagues and government agencies in the Disaster and Relief Commttee in Sri Aman. They rose to the challenge - although there was no major one, the important thing was we do our part to minimize the trauma of the flood victims. No lives were lost during our watch. For us, it will be just another day in our administrative chapters. Stressed out? You bet. Though there are many areas in the work procedures and communication between agencies that I would like to see improved, but as I have said, with the infrastructure, infostructure and manpower constraints that we have, the team steered by our Resident and the other agencies managed the flood situation rather efficiently. We just thank God there was no major disaster and mother nature was kinder to the Sri Aman folks. Congratulations people!