Despite devastation, defiant Kg Baru Guchil villagers stay put

by Zurairi AR
Malay Mail Online
January 4, 2015

KUALA KRAI, Jan 4 — In Kg Baru Guchil here, almost every villager we met talked about their “height” — in reference to how high the recent flood waters rose in their homes.

For Kamarulzaman, his “height” was the roof. During the floods last week, the whole of his two-storey brick house was completely submerged leaving his refrigerator stuck on his ceiling support beams once the waters receded.

“I completed this house six months ago … of course I will return here,” the unemployed 55-year-old man said when asked whether his family of six would abandon the house that was covered completely in thick brown mud inside.

Together with his wife, who was wearing a towel as a makeshift tudung and soiled cotton gloves, he was raking water-soaked debris off the stairs when visited by Malay Mail Online yesterday.

“Before this I was renting somewhere else. Even there we could not escape when ‘air naik’,” he added, using the Malay phrase locals used to refer to the annual floods in the state.

Just north of Kuala Krai town, Kg Baru Guchil is situated in a valley, circled by the rail line connecting Kuala Krai and Sg Nal stations, and the main road connecting Kuala Krai to Kota Baru.

The Kelantan River which rose 17 metres during the floods to 30 metres — five metres over the “danger level” according to the Department of Irrigation and Drainage — is less than two kilometres away.

When the floods hit, water rushed to cover the whole valley. Old wooden houses kissed the earth as their stilts gave way and several houses were carried away by the currents.

At one of the lowest point in the village, one house ended up on top of another after flood waters receded, leaving locals and flood relief workers in equal parts baffled and amused.

The houses that were left standing carried the permanent scars of the waterline, which marked their “heights.”

Still, many of the residents here refused to move. Some, like Osman Mohd Salleh, simply had nowhere else to go. He had settled down in the more vulnerable low-lying area because it was cheaper.

Sitting on his porch clad in just a sarong, Osman said his “height” this year was at the window of his wooden house’s second storey.

“I cannot afford it. I don’t get any pension money. Moving away and building a new house somewhere else would set me back hundreds of thousands,” said Osman, 62.

Envious of his more well-off neighbours who could afford a brick house, Osman explained that he could afford to fortify his house’s pillars with concrete only because his daughter had married a man who made a decent living.

Despite the destruction, many villagers told Malay Mail Online that they would stay put in their decades-old homes even with the annual threat of floods, which they dismissed as just “air naik” — literally meaning “rising water.”

To the left of Kamarulzaman’s home was the house of pensioner Ismail Abdullah, 76, who was even more stubborn. Ismail had lived in a wooden house that was destroyed in the last worst floods back in 1988, before moving to the current one situated just metres away the year after.

Back then, he said his “height” was just over his knees. His “height” this year was just below the roof of his two-storey brick-and-wood house.

Three generations live under his roof, and yesterday all of them were still bunking in flood shelters provided by the Veterinary Services Department 100 metres up the hill.

With the worst ostensibly over, the families are waiting for running water supply to return so that they can go home and start cleaning.

Single mother Nuriah Abdullah, 48, said that the floods had left her undaunted, even when it had destroyed the ancestral home where her sister had lived.

Her sister is now with her in her one-storey brick house, which was completely submerged during the floods.

“If you had come here back then, it felt like an ocean… but I will not move; here I was born, and here I will die,” she added.

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