Sarawak flood
Floods seen in Assan Mendamit Limbang. Photo courtesy of Jabatan Bomba & Penyelamat Malaysia

In the early hours of Sunday 18 January, almost three days of downpour caused flash floods in southern and central Sarawak. Early reports by the National Security Council indicated the evacuation of only 56 people in Mukah.

Later the same day, photographs from the 2009 flood depicting a submerged Kuching Waterfront started circulating online. Panic ensued among many netizens who believed that those photographs were taken from this week. Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem later discredited the old as well as fake photographs online and urged “people to not create rumours and false reports”. He also confirmed that the Old Court House and Grand Margherita Hotel were not flooded as rumoured.

Image from Malaysia's Meteorological Department on Monday 19 January.
Image from Malaysia’s Meteorological Department on Monday 19 January.

The situation quickly changed by Monday morning as the reported number of flood victims have surged to 3,201 evacuees overnight, which was triple the amount from the day before. Since Sunday morning, 39 relief centres have been operating state-wide with 22 centres in the Kuching division alone. Since Sunday, Sarawak has had an ‘orange’ alert warning in several areas, including Kuching, Samarahan, Sri Aman, Betong, Sarikei, Sibu, Mukah and Bintulu.

According to the Meteorological Department, the orange warning level is issued under three circumstances: 1) moderate monsoon rain is currently happening or expected in the next 24 hours; 2) low-pressure system/tropical depression; 3) strong wind at a speed of 50-60 kmph.

As of Monday afternoon, the flood situation improved as the water has subsided to a level safe enough for people to return home. This resulted in the closure of three relief centres. However, the relief centres are still kept open in areas like Kuching and Samarahan, affected by rapid river currents and rough sea conditions. The Kuching-Sibu express boat route is suspended until further notice.

3,458 evacuees from 889 families have taken refuge at 24 relief centres state-wide as of 1pm on Monday 19 January. It was reported last week that there was 17 year old girl who went missing when her boat overturned in Mukah. Atikah Rosli’s body was discovered lifeless by fishermen at 8.05am on Monday 19 January, the first fatality in Sarawak’s floods this year.

Sian Marie Low