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When It Flooded In Brisbane, They Didn't Sit On Roofs Waiting For Help

It took the Malaysian government days before boats were deployed to rescue people — something that the Australian government did in less than five hours.

Cover image via Surau Al-Munir/Malay Mail & Associated Press via The New York Times

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Climate change or just sheer bad luck, natural disasters are abound recently

In December 2021, Malaysia was hit by the worst floods since 1971, displacing more than 21,000 people and killing 47. The catastrophic floods were caused by typhoon Rai that hit the Philippines.

Just two months or so later, eastern Australia is facing a similar devastation. Rains that started on 24 February 2022 lasted multiple days, resulting in the overflow of dams and rivers, and it is forecasted that there is more to come.

Having been a flood relief volunteer with the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA) during the Malaysian floods and now a flood victim in Brisbane, I noticed a stark difference in the way the two governments handled this critical situation.

As part of possibly the first team on the ground in Hulu Langat, Selangor, it was shocking to see a lack of authorities. Arriving at a flood relief centre to provide aid way into the night, we received word that the dam was overflowing. In such situations, water is released to ease pressure and prevent a potentially catastrophic situation if it bursts. But the people must be evacuated.

Flooding situation in Hulu Langat, Selangor on 18 December 2021.

Image via Avigna Krish Dyala Kumar (Provided to SAYS)

Flooding in Kapar in Klang, Selangor on 19 December 2021.

Image via Avigna Krish Dyala Kumar (Provided to SAYS)

I was at the scene, and let me tell you, there were no sirens to warn the people, nor were there evacuation efforts

Our pick-ups could no longer access the roads to the village since water had risen too high, too soon.

We needed boats. There were none.

The fire brigade was there. They had no boats.

A soaking wet 'mak cik' told me the water went from ankle-deep to waist-level in a matter of mere minutes. By minutes, I mean within a 10-minute window.

I witnessed families with young children arriving at the relief centres with nothing but the drenched clothes on their backs, chattering teeth, and too cold to even stand straight.

Residents of Taman Sri Nanding in Hulu Selangor huddling together on the rooftop of Surau Al-Munir after their houses were flooded on 19 December 2021.

Image via Surau Al-Munir/Malay Mail

People wading through the floodwaters in Jalan Bukit Kemuning near Taman Sri Muda on 19 December 2021.

Image via Osman Adnan/New Straits Times

Maybe you are imagining the presence of the Social Welfare Department (JKM) handing out blankets and towels, and setting up tents.

Yes, they dropped off some tents. So, the shaky hands of the teeth-chattering victims can set them up? After all, they are pop-ups. And, no, there was no manpower.

That's why we were there, right? We are, after all, 'volunteers'.

We set up the tents, wiped dry little kids with our towels, while Upin and Ipin smiled distortedly from tees stuck to their tiny, skinny torsos. It's a scene that could give you post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for years to come.

There were policemen, ambling around, occasionally lighting a cigarette, but more often threatening to write us up for standard operating procedure (SOP) violation. Because COVID-19 is a worse threat than the rising waters and hypothermia.

Over the next few days, I saw posts on social media of families sitting on the roofs of their houses for days while the Prime Minister was photographed cutting cake at an event

Embarrassingly, I reveal to you, when the floods hit Brisbane, first-responders arrived before the situation even looked like an imminent threat.

I was perched comfortably on my balcony, two floors up from any possible rising water. And, honestly, it looked like how it did back home after a downpour and the potholes would fill with water.

Yet, at St Lucia, within a matter of hours authorities were at the scene. They had blocked off the road and began evacuating people as ominous, blaring sirens sounded.

Boat being used by State Emergency Service (SES) to evacuate people in St Lucia, a suburb in Brisbane, Queensland, on the morning of the 27 February 2022, after a flood warning was issued the night before.

Image via Avigna Krish Dyala Kumar (Provided to SAYS)

Boat being deployed by SES in St Lucia.

Image via Avigna Krish Dyala Kumar (Provided to SAYS)

The Queensland state government made sure that everyone was aware that the dams were full and overflowing — even us foreign students. Not long after that, the power was cut off. Water had also crept up to our driveway and started seeping into the shops opposite.

While we set off for supplies, I noticed that evacuation operations were underway anywhere with a hint of flood.

Residents evacuating as flooding affects Chinderah in Australia’s New South Wales on 1 March 2022.

Image via EPA-EFE via Taipei Times

It took the Malaysian government days before boats were deployed to rescue people — something that the Australian government did in less than five hours

So I ask you dear Datuks, Tan Sris, and Tuns of our nation, while you sat comfortably in your million-ringgit homes and the people who lived in shacks by the laterite roads of Hulu Langat scrambled for their lives, did it tug your heartstrings?

Or did you call your PR people and order a humanitarian angle to drum up your next election campaign? Enter jet sprays, photo-op shovelling, and the infamous boat descend on all fours (geez, my grandmother literally gets off a boat with more vigour!).

I am Malaysian and proud of it.

I plan to return and impart the knowledge I acquired for the nation's betterment. But we will never get better as long as we have politicians who dismiss an egalitarian society. We don't worship you anymore. Get off your pedestal.

We voted for you to do a job, so do it. If you can't, get out of the office and let someone more competent do it. The old ways of politics are gone. Floods are not acts of God and are not caused by the LGBTQ community, alcohol, or scantily-dressed women.

Floods are caused by climate change and by pollution from the development project that bought you your massive bungalow or paid for that trip to Europe. Floods are caused by that logging project that's keeping the 'moolah' flowing into your bank accounts like the floodwaters of 18 December 2021.

Flooding in Hulu Langat, Selangor on the morning of 19 December 2021.

Image via Avigna Krish Dyala Kumar (Provided to SAYS)

Flood cleanup efforts in Hulu Langat.

Image via Avigna Krish Dyala Kumar (Provided to SAYS)

This story is a personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the position of SAYS.

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Floods have already wreaked havoc around Malaysia in the first few months of 2022:

Here are some key steps you can take to prepare for a flood:

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