The Way It Is Here

Not A Disaster, Almost An Emergency Drill: Sapak Bubong

I greet this weekend with a sigh of relief. Reporting back for duty after a long holiday and fun has its drawbacks but then that is what this job is all about. During this uncertain weather conditions the Resident Office in Sri Aman has maintained a high level of alert. Our handphones keep beeping with requests for information and status updates from the State Disaster Committee's request. The Meteorology Department continues to issues warnings on deteriorating weather conditions for the next few days. There is constant communication amongst committee members regarding potential landslide and floods. Our Disaster Committee recently recieved a distress call for assistance from one of the longhouses in the interior of Pantu Sri Aman. There has been signs of soil movements at the back of one of the longhouse in Sapak Bubong and its Tuai Rumah (village head), Councilor Ajon had reported the matter to the Pantu Sub district office which immediately alerted the Sri Aman Resident Office. With the Resident's instructions and coordination from the State Disaster Committee in Kuching we mobilized our Committee members comprising of the District and Sub District Office, Public Works, Police, Fire & Rescue and Welfare Department to survey the area. We could only go there in full force the next day as the weather conditions was not getting any better and the area was not within reach by proper road. Using the river was an option but as it was dark already it would pose a risk to the survey team. We had to keep our fingers crossed that the rain does not worsen the landslide risk in the area.

Along the way from Sri Aman to Pantu, we saw the effect of the weather ~ slippery road conditions and a sleepy driver plus a faulty brake (the driver claimed that his vehicle's brake jammed) does not fare well for road users. What if your car that was on the other side of the road when that lorry sent out of control? There's a lesson to be learnt from this incident.

In trying to reach Sapak Bubong, one really have to be innovative. Our team took all the necessary options - the Police went via the muddy plantation roads that would require an hour of travelling, the sub District of Pantu used the river tansport while our team of Fire & Rescue, Public Works and Welfare crossed the Strap River and used one of the timber company's vehicle - a 4 wheel drive fitted with special tyres.

Scene of school children at Pantu Jetty located at Sungai Strap

Those using River transport can only steer up to Sapak Bubong (upriver) at 10 a.m. This is because the river traffic before 10 a.m is for those who are coming down to Pantu town or Jetty from the longhouse upriver. This was new to me. When I asked who made this rule, it was informed to me that this is 'the way it is here'. This was because the different river water level poses a risk to floating timber debrises and there are trees and branches along the narrow river (so narrow that only one large boat can pass through). So the 'rule' is there to enable the village folks to come down to town before 10 a.m so as not to cause 'River Jam' or risk any potential accidents. Travelling at night also I am told is more riskier with the river creatures being active and floating around looking for dinner. Yee Gods!

Ready for anything - I guess if they want to rough it out at the back of the vehicle I would join them

I had opted for the less riskier (so I thought) 4WD through the timber/plantation road which would take us to the location faster. I joined the Fire and Rescue Team at the back of the Isuzu Dmax as I allowed a lady member and the elder members to be in the vehicle - as there was only one available at that time. It was important that we reach Sapak Bubong quickly as we had delayed a day's travel already and no one had any idea or is able to predict what lies ahead. No one had time to check if this is covered in any insurance package as to us the situation at Sapak Bubong required our immediate attention.

Rough ride and bumpy ride

The driver had this to say to us at the back - if at any time that we feel that the vehicle is about to overturn or skid, do not jump out. At first I did not understand what he meant but when we were 10 minutes into the journey I realised that the rough terrains caused the vehicle to sway and slide on the road. At times it does feel that the vehicle may turn turtle. If someone is panicky they may think that the vehicle is about to somersault and they will almost certainly jump out. Furthermore as we passed through the muddy patches, yellow pieces of soil and water would splash into our faces. It also rained along the way and though there were a few umbrellas at the back of the vehicle, our two hands were holding on for dear life. Only one joker there was enjoying the ride at the back taking pictures and laughing. I wonder who that was :)

There is also another rule that also apply to using this timber & plantation road. It has to do with the 'right of way' on this road when a company vehicle (especially a timber truck) is on the road. This is to reduce the risk of accidents with road users be it another vehicle or a motorbikes. Seriously the other vehicles are not supposed to be on this road......its one of those 'the way it is here' cases.

When one looks at the giant vehicles that ply this route, one really understands why they have the right of way. They are humongous and I would not want to be in their way.

We reached Rumah Ajon, Sapak Bubong after almost half an hour of roller coaster ride. Those of us at the back were all wet and yellowish with the rain and mud flung to the back during the journey. It comprises of a 9 doors longhouse, one two doors single house and three single houses all built on a hill slope. One may think why the longhouse folks never got to see that this situation may arise and the threat of landslide can happen - well, let me answer that with 'That's the way it is here"

Rumah Ajon is a typical modern Iban longhouse - part concrete and part wooden minus the stilts and tanju (Verandah). Electricty comes mainly from the solar panel and partially by generator (as some of the solar panels are already damaged). The longhouse comprises of 50 people who are mostly farmers.

Since we arrived first, our team instantly went into action and took the necessary details of the soil movements. The signs of the cracks at the retaining wall which was detected by the villagers were assessed and photographs were taken. In the picture above, the 4 inch cement wall is the only barrier between the two storey (2 doors house) behind the 9 doors longhouse.

The Deputy Director of Public Works, Ir. Naseruddin measuring the cracked barrier wall with his technical staff, assessing the soil conditions and also trying to find the cause of the soil movements

Oops....while taking the picture I almost met an accident with that 'unidentified hanging object'. That's the way it is hanged here.

After we have done our job and the full team have made their assessments, we proceeded with our discussions with the various Rumah Ajon Committee members - (Development and Security Committee). The way it is here is that when a heavily tattooed guy pours water for you, do not say 'No'. Just smile and say 'thank you'. Luckily its only tea he is serving.

The District Officer (Encik Mahri) in yellow above discusses with Sarawak Administrative Officer Michael Duk (in blue jacket)

The team proceeded with the discussions and informed them of our findings and shared with them what our respective agencies will do. We adviced the Tuai Rumah to always remain vigilant not only during this rainy season but also at all times. The instant solution was to cover the affected area with canvas and they either can try to use the longhouse committee's funds or seek it from the local elected representatives. Once the technical report and recommendations by JKR to repair the barrier wall is recieved, we will proceed to seek development funds and take immediate action.

The longhouse hospitality was again exhibited when the longhouse folks prepared lunch for us. When food is served - guests are expected to eat as the ladies of the longhouse distributes the rice and special dishes. Not accepting it and not finishing it means we will dissappoint our host and the cooks. It was their way of saying thank you also and we reciprocated in finishing the food. Thus another lesson of 'The Way it is Here'. On my return journey and riding at the back of the 4WD I also learned that one should never travel with a full stomach.

This had been a great learning experience for our Disaster Committee at Sri Aman Division. Though there was no serious disaster, we are not asking for anything to happen. Our team went in full force even if there was a report of minor soil movements as this can be an early warning sign. What did I learn? ~ Personal interests, red tapes and Office politics should be cast aside. Though some incidents and situations raised a few challenging moments for me, I always believe prevention is better than cure and if it involves human lives, do not wait for anything untowards to happen irregardless of what one's idealogies, political inclination or beliefs are. If something really bad happens the blame game will start and I can bet where the fingers will be pointing. Luckily that is not 'The Way It Is Here'.

So to all the agencies - the Sri Aman District Office, the Pantu Sub District Office, Welfare Department of Sarawak, Polis Di Raja Malaysia in Sri Aman, Bomba & Penyelamat Sri Aman and Jabatan Kerja Raya Sri Aman, the longhouse folks of Rumah Ajon, Major Aisyah of the State Disaster Committee at Wisma Bapa Malaysia Kuching and the company which provided the 4WD vehicle - thank you all, you all did a great job!


headsteadi said…
Bro. I think you need to get a scrambler. Easy for you to access these remote villages.
Amiey Alen said…
children went to school by boat?
they must be the one who is brave enough to do that...
by boat seems so dangerous and unsafe (same meaning ha..hehe) but they are still willing to go to school...
i wonder if im in their position... and my form five ended... maybe now i've got lots of life's lessons from years to years starting from the primary school...

anywy... i've been to Sri Aman before which is looooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggggg time ago.... i never been to their rumah panjang... actually where the longhouse is? :D
Elsa Gabriel said…
what to say...i guess some people were lucky to have good road..even its not alike the sepang one...:) the hanging that a..u know??? sabah called it santut or seluar katak...:)
Pn Hamidah said…
I just wonder in the event of occurence of real disaster, how fast could the coordinated rescue team be mobilized to those rural interiors considering the messy conditions of the accessible means of transport and the communication barriers? Immediate measures and fundings should be made available to assess work on infra-structure before grave incidences of natural hazards occur.
Joe Nyuin said…
Well done for the super-efficient work.

After the Bukit Antarabangsa incident in KL it seems that landslide (or more accurately to be called rainfall-induced soil (slope) failure) is becoming visible source of fear to every part of people regardless of whether they are in the city or rural areas.

Thanked God, this one in Pantu is not a disaster. But the most important is that the longhouse folks are aware of this potential threat and know how to alert the responsible agencies.

The government should assess the risk of soil failures in the rural areas as well especially during this raining season.
Headsteadi - thank you for the idea, rally I will bring it up for the Sri Aman Bomba & Penyelamat to have their station fitted with at least two as now they do not have any motorbikes

Amiey - That's the way it is here. I will bring you and Cyril to one but beter inform Cyril its better to go to Batang Ai Longhouse Resort

Elsa - sia enda berani taip nama tu tadi :)

Hamidah - you brought up the appropriate questions and as Headsteadi has also indicated there are somethings we need to beef up and this exercise was actually an eye opener. When there is actually a real disaster I believe we are not ready if its a massive one

Joe - we try our best not to pat ourselves on the back. Preventing one potential disaster ensures that we wont have any sleepless nights on one area....but we are worried for other areas which have not reported any potential natural hazards.
GC said…
bro, you're one creative photographer :) love your pics.
Unknown said…
Well...thanks for the report. That mean nothing much is change in Pantu. Hm..that jetty with the stone step will be Pengkalan Pantu right? That i guess change a bit but the river never change much and even the native around there still travelling using boat. I suggest for next adventure especially if you like fishing then Pantu is the best place for fishing.
Coffee Girl said…
Even if i wanted to, I wont dream of saying 'No' to any tattooed guy pouring tea for me. That I gotta see and live for! Haha

And here we are, a few days after the heavy rain, losing rest on a weekend to be at the Relief Center and also at the Bilik Gerakan. BUt, work is work, right Desmond?
Hehe... Greg... i know u r a better photographer :) i rely on a simple digital camera. Headsteadi is a pro but during work I cant be seen outgunning the reporters

Rose - fishing, wooo...i fish in Cyberspace. I tried fishing but my mind just wants to fish in cyberspace. Maybe one day if a fishing spot has any Internet wireless coverage I may give it a try

One other - what to do. This intermittent rain and the three day forecasts by the Jabatan Cuaca next week may mean more overtime soon :)
moon said…
helo....helo....everyone, wah..i'm to see tat my area will be in d internet at last. But my longhouse not in here just in d same place.Yes, amiey alen, we going to school by bot, what adventure our life right? Dangerous? Sound like funny if you says tat, coz we love its so much. And life must go on. And now im became somebody. Dont you know went our people marry from longhouse to longhouse we also by boat. my friends...and i really miss tat time.....