Nearly 110,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in five states of peninsular Malaysia as the worst floods in decades hit the country.
Further heavy rain is expected in the coming days.
There is seasonal flooding in Malaysia every year and tens of thousands of people have to leave their homes, but the latest floods have forced the evacuation of nearly 106,000. Flood waters are as deep as two metres (6.5 feet) and entire houses have been submerged by rising water.
Seven deaths have been reported: five in Kelantan, which borders on southern Thailand, and two in neighbouring Terengganu.
Kelantan, Terengganu, and Pahang are the worst affected areas.
Previously, the worst floods to hit Malaysia occurred in January 1971 and resulted in 61 deaths. During the floods in 2006-2007, about 110,000 people were evacuated to relief centres, and 18 people died.
In the current floods, the capital, Kuala Lumpur, has not been as affected as other areas, although there was very heavy rain on Christmas day. Some parts of the city were flooded and cars were trapped.
Parts of the wider Klang Valley, which comprises KL and its suburbs and adjoining towns in the state of Selangor, have been flooded.
PM flies home in the face of criticism
Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, was heavily criticised for continuing his holiday in the US as his country was deluged by flooding, but he is now flying back to oversee emergency operations. He is is to chair a meeting in Kelantan on arrival and will be briefed by the National Security Council, the National Disaster Management and Relief Committee, the state government, and local emergency services.
He will also meet people affected by the flooding and discuss new measures to support those who have been displaced.
The government has also faced criticism for not declaring a state of emergency.
By midday on Christmas day, Najib’s Facebook page was flooded with angry comments from Malaysians who had heard that he was enjoying himself playing golf in Hawaii with the US president, Barak Obama.
Najib said he was deeply concerned by the floods and was now returning to see the situation for himself.
He said extremely high levels of floodwater and bad weather had made relocating victims and the delivery of food supplies by helicopters difficult.
The Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin flew to Kelantan yesterday and ordered the deployment of more helicopters, boats, and land vehicles to reach and help the victims.
There are calls for donations of food and clothes for evacuees.
Malaysia’s finance ministry has approved an immediate allocation of 50 million ringgit (about 14 million US dollars) for flood-hit states and more money will be made available if the floods persist.
More rain expected
Heavy downpours are expected over the next few days in several parts of Malaysia, including Johor, which neighbours Singapore. Residents there have been cautioned to prepare for possible massive floods.
Quoted in the Malay Mail online, Meteorological Department officer Azlai Ta’at said rainfall was expected to increase tomorrow (Sunday), especially on the east coast, and would continue until Tuesday.
He said the department predicted that the monsoon would only move in the middle of January, which means the rainy season will continue in the east until next month.
Azlai said, however, that the current rains were not because of the monsoon. “There is a vortex with high wind concentration in Selangor and Malacca which we predict will cause rains for another few more days,” he was quoted as saying.
Hudud comments spark outrage
There has been outrage over comments by one MP – Nik Mohamad Abduh, from the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) – who said the worsening floods in Kelantan were a sign of “Allah’s wrath” and that the state government must continue with its bid to enforce the Islamic penal code, hudud.
There is fierce opposition towards attempts by the PAS in Kelantan to implement the Islamic penal code and there is a Facebook page “One million Malaysians say no to Hudud laws”.
In Islamic jurisprudence, hudud covers crimes such as theft, robbery, adultery, rape and sodomy. Punishments for the crimes are severe and include amputation, flogging, and death by stoning.
Palm oil planters and traders say the flooding is likely to cause severe disruption to palm oil production in Malaysia, which is the world’s second largest producer after neighbouring Indonesia.
Some states and districts across Malaysia have decided to cancel their New Year celebration plans as a mark of respect for flood victims.
Today’s “Christmas Malaysia 2014” open house that was scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur today has been cancelled. The Tourism and Culture Ministry said the venue – the grounds outside the Pavilion shopping mall – would be used to organise a flood disaster charity event from noon to 10 p.m.
The current flooding comes just as communities have been marking the 10th anniversary of the devastating tsunami that hit Southeast Asia on December 26, 2004, and was caused by an earthquake in the Indian ocean.
The earthquake’s epicentre was off the western coast of Sumatra and Malaysia was relatively protected, but there were more than 60 deaths, mostly on the island of Penang.