BUKIT MERTAJAM, Malaysia: Residents in the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia, including Penang, have been told to brace themselves for the possibility of a second wave of floods as the current monsoon transition period may drag on until the end of November.
Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Minister, said on Wednesday (Nov 8) that the Meteorological Department had originally forecast a second wave of floods until the end of the monsoon transition period in the first week of November.
“However, judging from the situation, I predict that it (transition period) will drag until the end of this month as the current weather conditions are very much unpredictable," he said.
Unusually heavy rain and typhoon-like winds wreaked havoc across Penang last weekend and claimed seven lives, most of them senior citizens.
About 4,000 were still stranded at evacuation centres on the mainland in Seberang Perai as of Wednesday.
CHIEF MINISTER BLAMES MET DEPARTMENT
Penang's chief minister Lim Guan Eng on Wednesday blamed the Kuala Lumpur-based meteorological department for failing to issue early warnings that could have saved lives and reduced the damage from the floods.
It was a triple whammy last weekend, he said, where heavy rain and strong winds coincided with a surge of water from the river in the neighbouring state of Kedah that flooded almost the entirety of Penang.
The water rose quickly Saturday evening and thousands were stranded in their homes for hours with no electricity, as power stations were shut down until the following morning.
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, Lim said the department needed to get its act together.
"If there had been forecasting, we would have been better prepared and able to send necessary reinforcement in (the) hot-spot areas, and I need not call the deputy prime minister at 3.30am in the morning, and the army could have come in much earlier," he said.
Mr Lim, who leads the opposition Democratic Action Party, said the meteorological department's alert only came on Saturday night, after the storm had already hit Penang.
"It now appears that forecasting we have at the moment is more guess work," he said. "After the storm there was a red alert, instead not a single drop so there is something very wrong there."
When asked about the state's contingency plan if a second wave of floods were to hit Penang, Lim said that no amount of flood mitigation measures are enough if there is insufficient warning.
"They should give us at least two weeks to prepare and not wait till last minute," he said. "The real contingency plan just like (in) Hong Kong and Taiwan - you cannot do anything against typhoon and hurricane but you can be prepared."
"If you are prepared, you can not only limit the damage, you can save lives."
"ANY FORM OF ASSISTANCE IS WELCOME"
The Penang chief minister has deployed more than 10 industrial pumps to drain flood water from houses that are still partly submerged so that people can return and start cleaning up.
However the state's drainage and irrigation department's district officer Khairol Aidil said that if water continues to flow in from the neighbouring state of Kedah, no amount of pumping is going to be enough.
"If the level of water in the river doesn't go down, no matter how much we try to pump out the flood water, there's no use."
Flood victims in Seberang Perai said that they needed all the help they can get to help them get back on their feet.
"I don't care whether it's from the state or federal government, any form of assistance is welcome," said housewife Umi Aida who lost all her furniture and home appliances in the floods.
Lim added that Penang urgently needed about US$110 million to widen and deepen the river mouth and reinforce its river banks in preparation for the next flood.
"We are not asking for anything new, all these plans were approved in previous five-year plan," he said. "The only problem (is) they were not fully disbursed. We are asking for the remaining RM1.2 billion to be released."
Thirteen projects were approved for flood mitigation, but the federal government has so far disbursed only half of the amount promised.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has said he is willing to discuss how to top-up the amount and speed up disbursement if necessary.
The drainage and irrigation department said it would also focus on water reservoirs and coastal reclamation works in Penang, as well as the drainage system in the Georgetown heritage site.
Meanwhile, Wan Junaidi reportedly said a colloquium on flood mitigation strategies would be organised in January to search for the best and effective model to overcome floods in the country.