Malaysia braces itself for severe flooding

Lester Kong Straits Times 25 Nov 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government has put the country on flood alert, with the year-end monsoon rains expected to trigger severe flooding in the weeks ahead.

Already, three people have died in Kelantan, and 3,610 others - most of them in Kelantan and Terengganu, and some in Johor - have been evacuated to emergency shelters.

Pahang became the fourth state to be hit by rising flood waters, with 11 people forced to leave their homes yesterday, Bernama news agency reported.

Johor and Malacca have been hit by flash floods this week, and weather officials say that heavy rains are expected in Perak, Perlis, Kedah and Sabah.

Government agencies have already been gearing up for new floods during the current north-east monsoon season, which lasts until March.

Nearly 5,200 evacuation centres, which can accommodate up to 1.4 million people, have been set up, according to the Community Welfare Services Department. The authorities have also conducted drills for villagers living in flood-prone areas.

The Health Ministry says its staff in Kelantan, Terengganu, Perlis, Kedah, Pahang and Johor will not be allowed to take leave in the next two months.

'All agencies have been placed on alert conditions,' the National Security Council, which coordinates disaster relief measures, said in a statement.

Rescue boats, trucks, four-wheel drive vehicles, helicopters and equipment like water pumps and electricity generator sets have been serviced and put on standby in areas with high flood risk, it said.

The council, which is headed by Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, said 477 essential supplies centres have been set up and stocked with daily essential items. The council's new Twitter account, with the handle @PortalBanjir, was activated this week to provide constant updates on the weather and river water levels.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department said it expects northern states to have 40 to 60 per cent more rainfall this and next month. Perak and Johor could see 20 to 40 per cent more precipitation, it added.

The presence of a 'weak to moderate' La Nina weather phenomenon is expected to trigger more severe rainfall during the next few months, coinciding with the north-east monsoon season which lasts until March.

'Five to six heavy rainfall spells, each lasting maybe two to three days, are expected throughout the country during the season,' Dr Yap Kok Seng, director-general of the meteorological department, told The Straits Times.

Last year's floods displaced about 100,000 people, most of them in the northern states as well as some in Johor, and left four people dead.

Kelantan, which is governed by the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia, said its disaster relief measures are already in place, as it is used to the annual flooding.

'We are accustomed to handling flood problems. We always get ready in October for floods, with operation rooms,' said Mr Husam Musa, an executive councillor in the Kelantan state government.

'We have very good coordination with the federal agencies. We have a compulsory duty list for everyone: schools, fire and rescue services, the police and army, and hospitals.'

But Kedah, which is also an opposition-held state, has complained of inadequate federal assistance in the last round of floods.