KUALA KRAI, Jan 4 — The sun has risen over Kuala Krai, but the Kelantan town 64 km south of Kota Baru has yet to stir from the worst flood in recent history last week.
The waters have receded but the 20,000 or so people who live there are struggling to pick up their lives without running water to wash away the mud that has invaded their homes and shops.
The main road through the town,usually busy with traffic between Gua Musang and Kota Baru, remains quiet. Most shops are closed and the few that are open are still being cleaned.
Until water supply is restored life appears to have paused for most of the town folk..
“I have no idea when I can even start cleaning up. I really cannot do a single thing until the water supply returns,” Alias a 26 year old told Malay Mail Online.
His family’s grocery store, Kedai Runcit BSM remains shut.
As of yesterday, Alias was one of the 5,646 people displaced by the rising waters. Returning after almost a week he found all the goods inside the store had perished and thick mud covering the floor.
Across the street the shutters are down on his mother’s restaurant, Selera Guchil.
“I’m afraid if I open them, I would drown under all the mud,” he said.
A little up the street a family has set up camp outside their shop. Sitting on straw mats, two men and a woman eat rice packed in brown papers, donated by flood relief volunteers.
With no electricity, the family said they chose to sit outside as it was cooler, and since their visibility from the main street meant that it was easier for volunteers driving by to spot them for donations of essential goods.
“We were given these. We eat using these. We wash ourselves using these,” said the woman, pointing to two cardboard boxes filled with empty drinking water plastic bottles.
“It is only rainwater that God has not yet given us,” she added, referring to the past few days, before washing her hands with water from a bottle.
Clamour for running water
Not everybody has been content to sit and wait. A few doors down the road, a man called Zulkifli has started cleaning soiled goods right outside his 20-year-old shop, which sells automotive batteries and vehicle number plates.
“I bought some water from somebody who stopped by. I got these for RM10,” the 48-year-old said, pointing to three water containers, each holding 10 gallons.
Two of his staff painstakingly clean the plastic numerals he uses for number plates. With a nod to the lone volunteer who arrives to help, the shop owner says the man is a member of the Selangor royal house.
As at January 3, only 65 per cent of water supplier Air Kelantan Sdn Bhd’s (AKSB) treatment plants were fully operational and repairs at 13 out of 43 plants are expected to continue for ats at least 10 more days, according to the Kelantan flood disaster special committee.
Some areas have been worse hit than others, such as Machang in which no single area has water supply, and Kuala Krai itself, with only 19 per cent of the areas getting water.
“We didn’t get any water even days before the floods hit,” an ethnic Chinese man known as Owi, 43, the owner of an automotive spare parts shop called BH Auto Supply Sdn Bhd claimed.
Everyday one of his workers ferries water from about 28 km away, on a pickup truck with tank, every day.
“We use the water for cooking, cleaning ourselves. To clean the spare parts, we just use recycled water, rain water,” he explained, pointing to his workers who were cleaning expensive metal parts such as engine cylinders and driveshafts.
Grit and heart
Kelvin Leong, 28, who managed a diesel engine workshop downtown called Kuala Krai Motorworks, said most of the business owners on his street had decided to quit as they could not cope with the losses.
“A lot of them just want to retire. They are already old,” said Leong, citing a closed bakery across the road from his corner-lot workshop.
“I think to restart my business, I will have to wait at least around another half a year … My father had worked hard for 35 years, and we lost all that just in one night,” added Leong, who inherited the business from his father and had worked there for 14 years.
Giving a tour of his workshop, Leong joked that the price of one of his machineries alone was equal to one Honda Accord sedan car. The price of the car starts from RM135,000 in Malaysia.
Leong, the second son of the family, said he had to wait for engineers to come by and inspect the machineries before he could even use them, due to possible water damage.
While two of his teenage apprentices were cleaning soiled engine parts strewn outside the store — “the hearts that drive diesel vehicles,” as Leong called them -- his sister returned with a tank of water on her pickup truck.
She had just driven around 8 km to get water from their friend’s factory in Batu Jong which had its own underground water supply, Leong said.
“I still want to fight. Them old men can retire if they want, but I am still young,” Leong boldly claimed, explaining that his family might have to take a bank loan to salvage the business.
Like Leong, most of business owners polled by Malay Mail Online were resolute and eager to get back to work, knowing that prolonged lulls meant bigger losses.
But for now, they were slowly rebuilding their lives -- washing the mud away plate number by plate number, driveshaft by driveshaft — with what water they could find.
The red prayer altar on the floor in Owi’s shop was covered by mud but he’s determined to continue praying for a better tomorrow.
“God is up there,” he said laughing, pointing to the heavens.