Massive Malaysian Floods Leave 17 Dead, 100,000 Evacuated

January 16, 2007

More than 100,000 people have been evacuated in southern Malaysia to escape massive flooding, which has raised the specter of water and mosquito-borne diseases, officials and news reports said Monday.

The government was close to imposing a state of emergency in Johor state where heavy rains triggered a new wave of flooding after a previous deluge in December – the worst in a century – killed at least 17 people.

No casualties have been reported in the latest floods, caused by heavy rains that began last Friday and continued for almost 72 hours.
Several relief centers in the hardest-hit Kota Tinggi area are also overcrowded and cannot take in any more evacuees, an official at the Johor flood operations center said on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We need donations of food. Some (relief) centers have no more space already,” the official said. “Blankets and warm clothing are also needed.” The town is cut off, with floodwaters as high as 4 meters (13 feet) engulfing houses, petrol stations, blocking roads, the New Straits Times said.

The Education Ministry on Monday suspended classes at all 106 schools in Johor, which borders Singapore, and converted some of the schools into flood relief centers, national news agency Bernama said.

“It’s been raining from Friday to Sunday,” said businessman Alvin Tan from Johor Baru. “A lot of groceries and provisions, even fish, there’s either no stock or prices have all gone up,” he told The Associated Press.

The fresh floods hit just a few weeks after many victims had returned home for a mammoth cleanup. Some victims were reluctant to evacuate for a second time but police advised residents to adhere to instructions.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi estimated losses at more than 100 million ringgit (US$28.5 million; euro22.11 million). The operations center official said there were currently about 110,000 flood victims in more than 300 relief centers in Johor, and officials were on alert for the spread of diseases that can easily spread in the brown, murky water.

On Jan. 6, two people died in Johor Baharu from leptospirosis, a disease borne by water contaminated by the urine of rats. “We are also looking out for cholera, diarrhea and mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue and malaria,” the official said. He could not immediately say if there had been cases reported.

The New Straits Times reported Monday that in one relief center housing children in the state capital of Johor Baru, there was no rice left.

Malaysia’s Meteorological Service said heavy rain was forecast for the area till the middle of the week.

Johor has yet to declare a state of emergency, but one condition for its declaration has already been reached, the New Straits Times said. “If the number (of those evacuated) exceeds 100,000 or the water level at dams reaches the ‘crash’ level, we may declare a state of emergency,” it quoted National Security Division director in charge of disaster management, Che Moin Umar, as saying.

At relief centers, evacuees have been forced to sleep side-by-side in a cramped space.
Norreha Azahar, 43, told The Star newspaper she had been “moving in and out” of a relief center at a local school since Dec. 19 when rising water forced them out of their village in Skudai, on the outskirts of Johor Baru. “I have six school-going children. All their books are gone. My electrical items are also destroyed. What am I going to do now?” Norreha told the paper.

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