GEORGE TOWN: Just three days after the most devastating floods to hit Penang, the extent of the damage is becoming more evident as the waters recede.
Many homes are filled with thick layers of mud, with most of the belongings damaged beyond repair.
Local authorities are cleaning up around the clock, but they too are struggling with the reduced workforce as many of the workers are also victims of floods and want to take care of their families.
Senior local government officers say besides food and shelter, Penang needs lorries and backhoes to clear the staggering amount of mud on the streets and drains.
Knowing that the meteorological department has forecast another round of heavy rains this week, families are scrambling to clean up and reach a certain sense of normalcy, hoping for the best.
For some, going back to normal is proving to be difficult. In Bukit Mertajam’s Taman Seri Rambai, one of the worst affected neighbourhoods on the mainland, the situation appeared to be dire.
Hundreds of damaged furniture lined the streets of the once lively suburb, with the water level, in the form of mud marks, appearing to have risen nearly above the height of a saloon car.
All forms of litter ended up stuck on the fences of homes.
People were spotted eating outside in their porches after a group from the Amriteswari Foundation gave out free meals from a truck.
Many appeared to be shell-shocked over what had happened over the weekend. Many relatives of the victims have come down to visit and help them move spoiled items out of their houses.
Expensive fish gone
For resident Jeffrey Leong Chee Meng, 63, the house he had been staying in for more than three decades is as good as gone.
The businessman said he had lost nearly RM200,000 in the form of his prized possessions — his large stock of empurau fish.
“We used to have 600 to 700 empurau fishes in tanks.
“But the water reached 5 feet. After the water went down, we checked. All had died,” he said when met by FMT at his home.
The fish usually have a price tag of at least RM400 each, Leong says. “Life goes on, I suppose.”
His son, Adam Leong, 35, said the recent floods were reminiscent of the one experienced in 1995 when the waters were just as high and took four days to recede.
“At least this time, the water went down quickly. I suppose this was after a water pump was installed to pump water into the river nearby,” he said.
Dire straits in Air Itam
The floods in mainland Seberang Perai might have been reported to be worse than that on the island.
But one look at Kampung Shaik Madar, near the Chung Ling School in Air Itam on Penang Island, would make one think otherwise.
The settlement of slightly more than 100 units of two-storey kampung and brick houses straddles either side of the Air Itam River, which burst its banks during last weekend’s heavy rain.
The result was floodwaters rising nearly 1.8m, causing massive damage to the structures and belongings of residents there, who are mostly senior citizens and low-income earners.
A resident said the water current was so strong that a one-tonne lorry was carried 50m away. It came to rest against a six-month-old Perodua Myvi car.
What is left today are roads and homes filled with thick layers of mud. The Tzu Chi Foundation sent 50 members to take turns clearing the mud using shovels and taking them away in wheelbarrows.
The members went house to house to help single occupants, who were mostly old and could not move on their own.
Penang Island City Council (MBPP) officers used a water tank to flush out drains filled with mud and a backhoe to clear damaged items.
Air Itam assemblyman Wong Hon Wai was spotted cleaning up a street with council workers.
Ruslinda Mohd Nor, 45, said a giant tree in her compound came crashing on her wooden home, which houses 10.
“I called the city council to help, but they said they are busy. We hope they will bring a chainsaw to cut down the branches before my old house collapses completely.”
The village was set up by the George Town City Council in 1960 with a rental scheme for the units there. The units are rented out by MBPP at RM75 a month.
One of the villagers, Chong Sin Thon, 97, was among the seven who died in the floods. Police say he died of drowning in his home.
‘Please take me away to an old folks’ home’
A partially-blind senior citizen from the village, Tho Yuo Seng, 76, said he was nearly dragged away by the water but he managed to dragged himself up to the floor above.
“Water went up to my knees … I just went up and continued sleeping. Next morning, everything was in water,” he said.
Not far away, former security guard Joseph Tan, 70, said he could not see any more due to his old age but managed to wade through treacherous floodwaters to safety.
Tan said he had lived at the house since 1953.
“I live alone. I hope someone can send me to an old folks’ home,” the bachelor said.
Munah Mohamed, 75, said Kampung Shaik Madar often flooded as the river nearby was not deep enough. She has lost count of the many floods she and her five children had encountered over the years.
Another resident, who wanted to be known as Lim, said it was best if the Penang Water Supply Company waived this month’s water bill for those affected by the floods.
“Governments come and go but the flooding problem is never solved. What are we to do?” he lamented.