SHAH ALAM, Dec 24 — It has been almost a week since the worst flood in Malaysia’s recent history struck Taman Sri Muda here, but those left picking up the pieces of their shattered lives said it would take a long time to come to terms with the traumatic event.
Speaking to Malay Mail when met recently, many survivors seemed to linger on one thought: their utter disappointment over what they perceived to be a sluggish response by the authorities to rescue victims in the face of an unprecedented event.
Tee Kim Yeow, a 62-year-old trader who was trying to revive his brother-in-law’s car with his relatives, admitted to underestimating the disaster, but claimed that its effects could have been less far-reaching had the Drainage and Irrigation Department's (JPS) pump been actually running.
“The JPS pump was not functioning. The most important thing is drainage and irrigation. The government needs to work on this,” Tee's frustrated niece, Camille Wong, elaborated to Malay Mail.
“I read from Facebook that it got jammed [on Sunday]. They decided to only use the pump [on Monday but only] when water had already subsided.”
News portal Malaysiakini reported Selangor Infrastructure and Agriculture Committee chairperson Izham Hashim as saying that the floodwater in Taman Sri Muda had receded at a slower rate due to a “jammed” sluice to control the flow of water into the nearest river.
Izham was reported as denying a viral social media post questioning an alleged delay in the matter by managing authorities.
“During the flood there were strong currents, the sluice was hit with debris, logs and others. Its shaft became crooked.
“So it was not (jammed) due to lack of maintenance, but from damage during the flood,” he told Malaysiakini.
The Pandan Indah assemblyman was asked to clarify claims by an individual who reportedly recorded a video near the sluice, which compared the difference in water levels within the gate and without.
The news portal reported that another individual had also posted several photographs of the closed gate, alleging similar issues.
Those polled by Malay Mail laid their frustrations at the feet of rescue personnel, even comparing their efforts to those mounted by concerned private and independent individuals — some of whom had brought their own boats to conduct rescue trips.
“If a boat could accommodate 20 people, the rescue personnel themselves took up 10 spots. What's the point?” Wong asked.
Nothing but the clothes on their backs
Lorry driver Mohd Putra Haziq Mohd Azlan and his wife Faridah Mad Rejab said they had to seek shelter above an Indian-Muslim restaurant in Kota Kemuning, which is adjacent to Taman Sri Muda.
“Me, my wife and our daughter, we had just returned from Klang Hospital and were about to turn into the junction that leads to our home and we found that it was flooded.
“The residents there told us it was too late to enter and to just run for our lives as the water level showed signs of rising further. We left in my car. With only the clothes on our backs,” said Putra Haziq, who has lived in the nearby Desa Kemuning for close to three decades.
Clueless as to what to do next, he said he tried his luck and sought refuge at the restaurant.
“Sorry to say, these ministers, they should have come on Friday when the incident started. Some people had even passed out.
“They should have come immediately and offered help. Coming after the water subsided… what for?” Faridah asked.
So far, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim and Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin are among the Cabinet members who have been spotted in Taman Sri Muda in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
‘This is all we have’
K. Muthuveeran has rented accommodation in Taman Sri Muda for years since moving from Kajang. He too shared other residents’ frustrations over the efficacy of the rescue mission by authorities.
“We were stuck in our house for four days. We could not reach the aid line. We live in Andorra Apartment. The apartment people called and called, but no one came.
“There were also many cars parked on the lots and the boat couldn't enter either,” he related.
He said, for two days, he, his wife and two sons survived on nothing but bread.
“Then my sister-in-law advised us to try walking and we did and made it to safety. The government must improve the drainage in this area. This is the first time I faced this. It was just horrible,” he said.
“I will definitely have to come back. The house is all we have.”
No taboo when it comes to saving lives
Amid frustrations over the official response, the scenes in Taman Sri Muda saw many members of the public taking matters into their own hands to ensure safety for all.
This included for furry friends too, as a special medical booth was jointly set up by the Malaysian Small Animals Veterinary Association, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and the Selangor Department of Veterinary Services to rescue and treat pets.
Up to 10 veterinarians were working in shifts aided by veterinary students, when met by Malay Mail.
“We saw distress calls from various channels that some animals were stranded and abandoned. So we decided to come and help. All lives matter during a disaster. Four or two-legged,” Dr Farina Mustaffa Kamal from the Malaysian Veterinary Medical Association said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, they had treated more than 10 animals, mostly cats and dogs. Several owners were also seen rushing their pets to the booth upon being rescued with their pets.
“The common problems have been hunger, dehydration and stress. One of the dogs we treated came all the way from Dengkil.
“There is no taboo when it comes to saving lives for us, veterinarians. I am a proud Malaysian and for us here, all animals matter equally,” she added.
Dr Farina was assisted by Dr Intan Suriati Abdul Manaf and Dr Raja Aiman Hakim, both of whom run their own practices and decided to volunteer at the booth.
“No caste and creed between animals here. We also treat exotic animals,” Dr Raja Aiman said.
Repeat of 1996 flood
For Dr M. Thangaraj, the Taman Sri Muda flood was a stark reminder of the 1996 flood that he experienced when he was only 12 years old. His family had suffered losses then, and they also had to be rescued.
Now a neurosurgeon, it was a call of duty for him to return and treat those from his neighbourhood.
“I grew up here, studied here. So this is a call of duty for me to come home and serve,” he said.
Upon hearing about the flood, Dr Thangaraj contacted his school alumni group and made arrangements for the medical booth. He said that many flood relief initiatives in the area were being run by former students of SRK Taman Sri Muda and SMK Taman Sri Muda.
“I was affected by the flood. I know the pain, so we will work to relieve as much of their pain as we can with our dedicated team of doctors here. It will take a few months to get back to some semblance of normalcy. There will be post-traumatic stress disorder. This is what happened 25 years ago,” he added.
The booth located inside the SJK (T) Ladang Emerald, Shah Alam, also has a mental health assessment system, whereby one needs to scan a special QR code and answer an online self-assessment sheet, after which a medical professional will be assigned to help them with their needs.
“We had an eight-year-old child who collapsed due to low blood sugar. We treated and stabilised the child. We keep improvising as we see fit with every challenge that comes,” he added.
School reopens as shelter
K. Thayalan, who is the school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) head, decided to open up the building as a relief centre, seeing how it was school holidays and many needed a safe place to shelter while waiting for the flood situation to improve.
Having grown up in Taman Sri Muda, he led the coordination and opened up the school premises to flood victims.
Malay Mail noted a steady flow of food, medicinal supplies and clothes being delivered by the minute.
“We started on Sunday. Nadma set up its relief camps here only after learning about ministers' arrivals,” Thayalan said.
“We have been coordinating everything here with the school's team and we feed between 2,000 and 3,000 people every day,” he added.