Wednesday, February 24, 2021

In Sarawak, rising floods push virus war from limelight

But Covid-19 still complicates rescue efforts and necessitates quarantine even at flood relief centres.

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While Sarawak has been spared the strict Covid-19 lockdowns which enveloped most parts of the country following the reinstatement of the movement control order (MCO) this week, thousands of residents in key cities and townships have been facing another problem as floods worsen in their areas.

Despite the state coming under the milder, recovery phase of the MCO or RMCO, the risks attached to the Covid-19 pandemic are complicating efforts to relocate flood victims to relief centres.

Julia Sulong and her husband Zainal Abdullah, who is paralysed from the waist down, are among hundreds of evacuees now placed at a multipurpose hall in Kampung Sinar Budi, the worst affected area in Kuching just 5km away from the city centre.

Heavy rain on Wednesday saw their home inundated by midnight.

Julia Sulong

Julia recalls how she panicked when no help came from the rescue team to get her husband to safety.

She later learnt that the team had faced a shortage of boats for evacuation as unexpected floods hit Samarahan, Serian and Miri as well as the state capital of Kuching.

“We have lived here for 17 years, but the floods never reached the level at which we needed to be evacuated,” she told MalaysiaNow.

In the end, Julia’s neighbours came to her aid and helped move her and her husband to safety.

Kampung Sinar Budi’s Village Development and Security Committee (JKKK) secretary Hanina Habil said rescue efforts have been affected by a shortage of boats as well as the challenge of complying with SOPs.

She said the state Fire and Rescue Department also faces logistic problems.

Zainal Abdullah

Villagers who spoke to MalaysiaNow said in one instance, victims had to be transported on an old refrigerator door, while in another case, a garbage bin was used to move children out of their home.

Hanina said some victims waited up to 4.30am for the rescue team to arrive.

The problem is compounded by the relief centres’ limited capacity to handle the crowds.

At the multipurpose hall in Kampung Sungai Budi, 63 families are taking shelter with 40 tents put up to house 268 evacuees.

But there are at least three other flood victims who are under quarantine due to Covid-19 symptoms and who have to be placed in a separate room.

“Some officers from the health department came yesterday and reminded us to observe physical distancing.

“How can we do that if we have to huddle together on the stage (at the hall)?” Hanina asked.

She said rescue efforts require teamwork from various agencies, adding that she understood the challenges faced by the authorities.

As of 8am this morning, the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee said there were 4,247 people at 51 relief centres.

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