In Kelantan floods, unsung heroes emerge

by Anisah Shukry
The Malaysian Insider
31 December 2014

The flood that engulfed several areas in Kelantan the past week has left a trail of destruction and misery, but harrowing reports of altruism and bravery have also emerged as ordinary Malaysians step up to the task of helping out their fellow men.

Teacher Muhammad Apandi Hashim, 46, spent the first night of the floods in his 3.5m boat, manoeuvring through electric poles in the dark through the rushing water to rescue countless villagers in Tanah Merah who were beyond the reach of official rescue teams.

The first pair he rescued that Wednesday evening were his neighbour’s elderly parents, who were stranded in a village about an hour away from his house.

“I was all prepared to evacuate my house with my family, when my neighbour asked me if I could pick up his parents with my boat. When people ask for help like that, how can you refuse?” he told The Malaysian Insider when met at his house in Kampung Cherang Lali, Tanah Merah, yesterday.

But getting from one place to another even by boat becomes a challenge as recognisable landmarks are swallowed up by the raging floods, while tree branches and electric wires protruding from the surging water’s surface threaten to damage the boat’s motor.

“We had to just rely on our gut instinct to get there, and, thank God, we reached the house in about an hour. It was already flooded up to the doorsteps by the time we arrived.

“But like my neighbour warned me, the old man refused to come out. He said that if he left, who would take care of the house, the motorcycle, the cars?

“I said to him, ‘Ayah, you’ve got to come with us. It’s getting dark, we have no time.’ We forced him into the boat.

“If Ayah had stayed, he wouldn’t have been able to save himself, never mind his motorcycle. Last I heard, the water in his house went up to chest level and everything was destroyed.”

But after Apandi had dropped the elderly pair off around 7pm, his task wasn’t over – others who spotted him on his boat begged him to help their marooned relatives in other villagers.

Although ill-equipped for rescue missions – the boat only has a 5hp engine and capacity for just four people at a time – the teacher said he lost count of the number of families he rescued that night.

He only returned home by 5am, and was relieved to learn that while the flood had cut off road access to his neighbourhood, his house and the surrounding homes remained dry.

But at home he only managed to pray and eat, and within an hour, he was out again rescuing more people trapped in their homes. This went on for three days, said Apandi, until the rescue teams finally arrived in their village.

“Once, as I was visiting the relief centre, another person came up to me and asked me to save people in his village. I had to refuse. I was drained, and my boat isn’t built for rescuing people.

“I told him to appeal to the rescue team instead, who were already stationed nearby. If I went in with my little boat, exhausted, and it capsized, that’s four lives I have to answer for,” said Apandi.

The boat which teacher Muhammad Apandi Hashim used to rescue villagers in Tanah Merah. The boat can only take five people at a time. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Hussain, December 31, 2014.But even with the authorities taking over Apandi’s task, his work wasn’t over. From retrieving stranded people, he now had to feed dozens of hungry mouths as his neighbourhood remained cut off from the main road due to the flood.

Several times a day, he would go knocking on his neighbours’ doors to find out what supplies they needed, before going out on his boat to dryer land, switching to his car and driving about an hour to Machang, where the nearest operating grocery store was located.

Yesterday was the first day he was finally able to rest at home as the floods had finally subsided, he said, and only now did the aches and pains of all his earlier exertion sink in.

“Strangely enough, I didn’t feel any pain when I was out there chugging through the water in my boat. But now when I’m resting, it hurts all over,” he said.

But while water levels are receding across the east coast, dozens of houses on the outskirts of Kusial Baru, Tanah Merah, remain completely submerged under flood waters.

Its owners have fled to the three relief centres. To survive, the thousands trapped there rely solely on goods transported by NGOs, volunteers and authorities by boat.

During a visit there yesterday, The Malaysian Insider found the murky waters that separated the village from the rest of the state busy with boats carrying a variety of supplies, while the muddy road was packed with trucks and four-wheel-drives loaded with bags of rice and boxes of clothes ready for distribution.

Among them was a group of six men who had travelled from Kuala Lumpur in their two Hilux trucks to help ensure that the tonnes of donations coming from across the country actually reached the people in need.

“There are many people donating items, but there are few people who are actually in Kelantan to distribute the aid. We knew manpower and equipment was needed, so that’s why we came here,” Muhaidin Mokhsin, 51, told The Malaysian Insider.

In preparation for their trip, the team had bought two boats which cost over RM1,000 each and made sure their trucks were well-equipped to withstand the gruelling task.

For the past three days, Muhaidin had led the group of six, who are all members of an adventure club called the Oscar Tango Adventure Team, through seven flooded districts in Kelantan bringing fuel, food, water and other goods.

“We ran out of supplies quickly enough, so we’ve had to restock at any sundry store we passed on the road. So far, we’ve spent about RM10,000,” said Johari Ali, 63, whose family is stranded in Kusial Baru.

“Logistics hasn’t been much of a problem. We’ve been sleeping at friends’ or relatives’ houses here in Kelantan, and when that wasn’t an option, we slept in our cars. It’s not as bad as it sounds,” he said with a grin.

Meanwhile, another teacher, Mohd Khairul Azhar Md Now, 42, has been driving around his hometown of Tanah Merah alone for the past three days to distribute donated clothes and food to flood victims.

Khairul said he had posted on Facebook last week that he expected his house to be flooded, and his friends had quickly raised money for him and donations came pouring in.

But after a night spent at the relief centre, he returned home to discover that his house had been spared from the floodwaters.

“So I’m using 100% of the money donated for me to buy supplies for the people who actually do need help, and driving around distributing it to them,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

He said he entered as many flooded villages as possible in Tanah Merah, at all hours, while updating his friends on Facebook on where the money they had donated was going to and how much more was needed.

“The flood could have happened to me, but it didn’t. So now it’s my turn to help out.” – December 31, 2014.

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Thursday, 1 January 2015 - 9:56 am

    Did Perkosa n Isma kaki help in d on-going floods

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