Picking up the pieces after a terrible flood

The damage caused by the flood to the farmhouse of Dayang and Yusup.

THE gaping sinkhole on the road exposing a partial wall that had collapsed during the unexpected flood in early August would take some engineering skills to fill up.

The Kampung Bakam road was covered with slushy debris in the aftermath. Some washed away clothes were even seen hanging from trees by the riverside.

More than 100 families of Kampung Bakam in Miri are still in shock following the sudden deluge, caused by a high tide swollen by a heavy downpour lasting more than five hours.

“It was a shock when the flood came in the early morning. The rain had been pouring very heavily and the winds from the sea were howling for hours. The sea was unusually high. Many fishermen had not put out to sea that day. Normally, they would go out by 2am,” Tan told thesundaypost.

“It was fortunate many of the kampung folk also live on higher ground and could help those in the low-lying areas nearer the river.”

 

Lost everything

Georgie, a flood victim and fisherman, showed how high the water had risen at his house. He said he lost everything and had to burn things which could never be used again.

He added that salvaging all the sodden possessions caused him a lot of backaches and heartaches. There was so much mud in his half-completed house.

“I must say I have lost everything because the flood was chest deep. It was impossible to save anything. My little oven on a small table is gone, all the mattresses are soaked and I could only save what could be dried.

“I have lost more than 100 rolls of nets. My little boat house is damaged. It’s really sad and there is no insurance to cover this kind of disaster,” he said with pain in his eyes.

Sand was left behind by the floods in most of the house compounds.

Georgie said it was fortunate his daughter-in-law had already given birth and was not in the house during the flood.

He could not imagine how difficult it would have been had the baby arrived that morning in the middle of the flood.

His family members are still traumatised. What kind of compensation can they get? In what ways can the government help them?

He said the elected representatives did come to have a look. Perhaps the river could be dredged and deepened, and the banks reinforced.

While many of the villagers managed to escape the fast-rising waters in their vehicles and motorcycles, not many of them were able to save much.

The wall of a new house in front of Georgie’s collapsed, leaving a huge sinkhole as a grim reminder of the power of the invasive flood water. Marks of the calamity were left on most houses on both sides of the Kampung Bakam road.

The Bakam road runs through a serene village where many Mirieks and other ethnic groups live.

Most built their houses parallel to the Bakam River. As fishermen, they need the river to take their boats out to the sea.

A lifeline

The river had been their lifeline before the arrival of treated water supply and was also the main means of transportation to Miri in the past. Today, the river continues to enable the fishermen to take their boats to fishing grounds.

More than 100 rolls of fishing net were destroyed.

Moreover, the river has been providing the villagers with much-needed protein from the haul of fish – albeit more so in their parents’ days than now.

A young kampung boy, looking forlornly at the damaged fruit gardens of his family, remarked, “All these fruit trees were planted by our grandparents. If floods come more often, all our fruit trees will die. That would be very sad. We have durian, jambu, salak, mangoes, dabai, langsat, rambutans, rambai, and belimbing. These fruits also help us to earn some cash during the fruiting season.”

According to a female roadside stall owner, the devastation from the flood was a real eye-opener. She said they were very shocked to see the whole neighbourhood underwater.

“I live further inland where it’s higher. Many people couldn’t go to work that day. Water everywhere. We really couldn’t do much to help the victims. Luckily, Bomba came with their boat to help evacuate the affected families to the hall over at Kuala Bakam.”

Like Georgie, most of them had no time to save their possessions. The elderly man had been trying to complete his new concrete house. He now has a lot more to do.

Most of the families with young school children lost essential items, including diapers, and schoolbooks. Even their mattresses had to be dried in the sun for days.

 

The damaged kitchen of the farmhouse.

Substantial damage

Although only about 10 families were affected, the damage was quite substantial, according to Tan.

“Bomba rescued the very young and elderly first, taking them to the hall next to the mouth of Bakam River.

“Everyone was soaked to the bone. Most of their possessions were damaged or lost. These are villagers whose houses are situated next to the river,” he noted.

The relative of a teacher from nearby Kampung Raan remembered there was flooding in her kampung before the August deluge in Bakam.

It was devastating to the local people. The Raan River, about 3km from Bakam River, flows into the latter near the river mouth. Perhaps, it was due to the flood water flowing in from Upper Raan that the Bakam River broke its banks, causing the big flood.

According to the relative, the storm water surged under the bridge and later rose to submerge it, creating a frightening flood situation in Kampung Raan.

She said the water also flowed into her garden as her house is next to the Raan bridge. Naturally, the water swirled into her house. It was the first time she had seen such a big flood.

The cleaning up was most difficult. They had to dry everything, especially the carpets. So when flooding hit Kampung Bakam, she and her family and relatives understood the plight of the victims.

The Miri area experienced very dry weather in July. For days, there was no rain. So when the dry spell finally broke, bringing storms and heavy rain, the rivers started to swell and eventually overflow.

The rivers had always been able to drain the storm water until that August day when the big storm struck. It must have been very sudden and heavy to cause such a ruinous run-off.

The sinkhole and the fallen wall of a new house caused by the floods.

Possible causes

According to a villager, no floods of such a devastating nature had ever occurred in the Bakam valley in his five decades of living there.

“I believe the topography of the area is one of the causes. The channel of the Bakam River further inland is surrounded by steep slopes which could cause fast surface run-offs.

“It could also be that the oil palm estates weren’t able to prevent the rapid surface run-off. It’s best to leave it to the authorities to explain and decide how to prevent a similar disaster.

“The Bakam River has been widened by the flood through erosion. Sandbags are used to prevent further destruction of the banks,” he said.

Dayang Lasung and her husband Yusup Marcell, have a farm next to the Bakam River, not very far from Georgie’s house.

They returned from their travels to check on their farm house when the flood subsided and found it almost empty because nearly everything in the open kitchen literally floated away.

Georgie indicates the level of the flood waters.

The couple live in Miri and farm in Bakam.

“After the water receded, the one thing we found still intact was the small bridge at the farm.

“We already visualised the extent of damage. I can imagine my pails and basins floating in the river out to sea. The currents must have been very strong to cause so much damage.

“We now have sand all over the place. At least, we can repair our farm house with free sand,” Dayang said.

According to Yusup, the damage to their farm was substantial.

“The fruit trees might not be able to fruit this year or even next year. Fortunately, our engkabang tree is still standing. Those with deep roots like the durian trees were not uprooted.

“Had the flood stayed two or three days longer, many of our jambu and cempedak trees would have died. Had we planted vegetables, it’s certain they would not have survived.”

Sandbags now protect the Bakam river mouth.

Ridang palms from their farm were found along the riverbank. These palms, which are not common in Sarawak, had beautified their farm and were admired by visitors.

They hope to rebuild their farm, plant more fruit trees, and repair their farm house for their weekend use.

The couple have lost many things at their farm to thieves over the years but this time the flooding wiped them out.

Flooding is nothing new to most Sarawakians or so they say. But the folk of Kampung Bakam will long remember the trauma of the devastating flood, the loss of property, and the days of hard work and recovery that lie ahead.

If there is going to be effective flood management, the strategies should be economically, environmentally, and socially viable. The future of the kampung folk and their future generations should not be compromised.

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