KOTA BHARU, Kelantan: Rescuers braved raging rivers and carried a boat over their heads in order to reach a group of loggers stranded in the forest earlier this week.
Fourteen loggers, all from Tanah Merah in Kelantan, were working in Kampung Sokor Forest Reserve when tragedy struck.
“They had all they needed to cross the four rivers in a normal situation, but this time the rivers were anything but normal," Tanah Merah Fire Rescue Station chief Mohd Rafain Mat Zain told CNA on Tuesday (Dec 3).
He said the loggers had managed to cross the first river but the second river was dangerously swollen.
“Then they thought maybe they could just go back into the reserve but by that time, they couldn’t cross the first river either, so they were stuck at a very dangerous place between two rivers,” he explained.
HOW THE RESCUE UNFOLDED
On Sunday, the Tanah Merah fire and rescue department received a distress call.
“I was told that there was panic and the men sounded desperate on the phone. We later found out that they had already been stuck for over a day by then,” the station chief recounted.
Although the call was made at around 4pm, it took the rescue team more than three hours to reach the location due to the distance and the worsening weather.
Upon their arrival at 7.30pm, Mr Mohd Rafain and his team found that the police have already been informed.
“The policemen who were there told us it was impossible to go in. They said the rivers had burst their banks ... it was dangerous to try and go in in the dark.
“We had villagers as part of our team who came to show us the way, so we could not risk it,” he said.
The rescuers could only return the next morning.
Six men from the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team, together with four policemen, four firemen and three villagers were involved in Monday's mission.
They managed to get past the first river from the entrance of the reserve on four-wheel-drive vehicles. But the second and third vehicles were not passable by car.
“All of us then carried a motor-less fibreglass boat over our heads and crossed the second river. We then made our way to the third river, which was about 500m from where we parked our pickup trucks,” Mr Mohd Rafain recounted.
The men then had to row their boats against the current for 50m before they could reach the loggers, who had found some high ground.
SCARED AND HUNGRY
As soon as the team reached, they heard the loggers thanking god repeatedly.
“They looked tired and they told us they were hungry as their emergency food supply had been completely depleted,” said the station chief.
“They were cold and obviously desperate to get home. So we all got onto the boat as soon as we could and got them out of that place.”
He said one logger had pledged to stay away from the forest reserve until the floods are over this year.
"IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR"
The people of Kelantan and Terengganu have been braving the floods during the monsoon season for as long as they can remember. To some, it has become part of life.
However, some say the authorities should be doing more to resolve the yearly problem.
“They promised us dams. But that remains just words on an election manifesto,” said an entrepreneur who only wanted to be known as Zul.
The man in his 40s is from Pasir Mas in Kelantan and lives in a home that is surrounded by floodwater from all sides.
“I have been in this area for over 10 years now and this happens to us every year. When election comes, we get our state government making all kinds of promises and claims.
“Now post-election, they aren’t even stepping out to give aid to the people. When are they going to build the dams?” he said.
Mr Zul noted that the water flooding many areas was just rainwater and not from the rivers.
"It is just rainwater which has nowhere to go, and this is because there is no proper drainage system,” he said.
Floods in Kelantan and Terengganu this year have claimed two lives and made more than 10,000 people homeless.
As of Wednesday morning, the number of evacuees in Kelantan stood at 13,764 people, while it was 1,856 in Terengganu.
The situation is expected to worsen in the coming days.