KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 29 ― For the past 20 years at least, residents in hilly Kuala Krai have led a carefree life whenever the annual northeast monsoon blew into Kelantan and turned large areas of the state the colour of the frothy, milky beverage beloved of Malaysians called teh tarik.
Local lore has it that “if it floods in Kuala Krai, the whole of Kelantan will be underwater”, Ryonn Leong, a native, told Malay Mail Online.
But the speed and fierceness that saw the waters of Sungai Kelantan burst its banks last week caught its long-time residents off-guard; there had never been a need for a flood safety plan as the water levels in the river had not risen past the danger mark in 20 years.
“I would scoff it off when any of our friends asked about the flooding in my hometown... who would have thought, one day it would become a reality?” the 34-year-old business development manager said.
While Ryonn now lives in Kuala Lumpur, the torrential rains that lashed Kelantan has been a “nightmare” as his family ― his elderly parents, his siblings and their young children ― were marooned in Kuala Krai by the floodwaters of near biblical proportions.
The water had almost covered the first floor of the Leongs’ two-storey shophouse along Jalan Chin Hwa has since receded.
And after nearly four days of squeezing in with friends who live on higher ground in Taman Krai, approximately 6km from their home, Ryonn’s 67-year-old father and 56-year-old mother, are getting restless pondering on the state of their business goods, he told Malay Mail Online.
Ryonn’s father runs a service and distribution centre for engineering products in Kuala Krai and is helped by Ryonn’s younger brother, Kelvin, 28.
“My parents are eager to return home, but it is not the same,” Ryonn said, after viewing photographs of the damage to their family shophouse that Kelvin had shared with him yesterday morning.
“The entire ground floor needs to be cleaned up, but there is no electricity or running water… and it is more dangerous for them to be there as of now as this is when illnesses tend to spread,” he related to Malay Mail Online.
The extend of the damage to the property and the hardware in his father’s service centre has also not been accounted for yet, said Ryonn.
But now that the floodwaters have receded in the area, Ryonn is hoping to rent a four-wheeled car to enter Kuala Krai via Kuala Lipis by Tuesday to reunite with his parents, his brother, his pregnant sister-in-law and two-year-old niece and to bring them and their neighbours much-needed supplies.
“It is not safe for them there, until everything is over and until the area is given the all clear,” he said, his voice tinged with worry.
But Ryonn was far from composed when first contacted by Malay Mail Online three days ago.
His hometown was completely cut off from land, he had no chance of going in to get his family of seven out.
Ryonn had also momentarily lost all communication with his brother, Kelvin, with whom he had been relying for information on their elderly parents’ safety.
He had been frantic, fearing for their welfare as well as the difficulties faced by Kelvin’s pregnant wife and toddler who like the tens of thousands of flood victims nationwide had been displaced and left alone in the dark for days after the power lines went down and with a fast depleting stock of food and drinking water.
“They managed to charge the phones from the cars, but the fear did not go away knowing that they could run out of fuel soon,” said Ryonn.
Out of desperation, some people resorted to ransacking the abandoned homes for food though there were others, he said who took advantage of the situation by looting the houses for valuable and electronics.
“This is humanity at its best and its worst,” Ryonn said.
Many were still going about with their daily routine when reports began to flood in that the level of the river at the Krai Steps was 33.58m, almost 10m above the danger mark on the eve of Christmas, News Straits Times reported.
The magnitude of the disaster was unexpected. As at 8pm yesterday, 105,876 people have been evacuated from their homes in Terengganu, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, Johor, Perlis, Selangor, and Kedah.
Although floodwaters are gradually receding in Kuala Krai and Kota Baru, meteorologists have warned that the worst is not yet over in Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu.
Reports continue to pour in on overcrowded shelters; intermittent communications services; shortage of food and water supply; rescue efforts hampered by power outages; and roads that have been washed away by the floods.
A total of five deaths were recorded in Kelantan, three in Pahang and two in Terengganu to date, according to data from the National Security Council published on its website.
The extent of the worst flooding in decades has been such that Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is overseeing the government’s flood relief efforts, has warned that floods are worse than anticipated, saying that assets currently deployed were inadequate to face the floods of such proportions.