Saturday, January 16

Lutong Beach Road bears brunt of erosion and storms

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LUTONG Beach Road has always been safe to use by drivers who want to avoid heavy traffic on the main roads.

This road from Lutong to Miri via the Piasau bridge also gives drivers a good view of the sea, and occasionally, a cool sea breeze.

In the old days, it was the only route from Miri to Brunei. Back then, the beach held up better against the weight of the vehicles passing through it to both destinations.

While holidaying in Miri, Douglas Jin Samsuddin from the Bintulu Port Authority, told thesundaypost, “I saw the papers reporting on this and today, I’m here to see for myself.

Douglas Jin Samsuddin

“I used to play on the beach with my schoolmates. As I’m now working, I sometimes miss coming here but I’m shocked to see the conditions today. The beach is now so near the road and the erosion has been very fast. It can cause accidents if drivers aren’t aware of the poor conditions at night. Furthermore, a single wave can take away 10 feet of road.”

He said the police and the public should be alert these few days because one never knows what chaos the storms might cause, especially during night time.

He suggested that for public safety, street lighting should be installed in the area.

While chatting with Douglas, thesundaypost noted that his family name is Jin Samsuddin and, out of curiosity, asked him where it originated from.

He explained even though they are Ibans, his grandfather had been such a great fan of the late actor Jin Samsuddin that he named his son (Douglas’ father) after the popular Malay actor.

Douglas said he always had to explain to people about his name.

Traditionally, Iban fathers like naming their children after successful people or people they admire.

 

Landas havoc

For many years, the Landas has wreaked havoc on the beach and the road.

A Miri resident Julaihi (name has been changed) is most aggrieved by the mess caused by the stormy weather.

A sea hibiscus tree stands amidst sand and wood washed up the road by a storm.

He said all his relatives’ stalls had been damaged over the past few days.

“Now they cannot continue with their business. With Covid-19, many people have found selling food a good way to supplement their income but it’s a pity the tables and home-made benches are all full of sand, and some are very badly damaged as you can see. These poor people have no one to help them.”

Julaihi said the drink stalls could make a bit of money on weekends while customers were having a good time hanging out. However, he pointed out that with bashing from the storms, the beach was not a good place to bring children for an outing.

He noted that in Miri, most of the beaches had been privatised.

“For example, we can’t go and enjoy ourselves at the Piasau Boat Club beach, which is actually part of the Lutong beach.

Murky flood waters in the compound of houses on silts in Kampung Pasir after a heavy storm.

“We have to pay RM10 to enter and use the facilities. We don’t have a park for children on the beachfront in Lutong. What a pity! Oil and gas have earned so much for Sarawak, yet not much is given back to the public,” he lamented.

The Lutong Beach or Coastal Road is probably the third one now connecting the Piasau Camp and Kuala Baram and leading on to Brunei.

The first road was just a beach, used by buses plying the Brunei-Miri-Brunei route in the 1950s.

A second road was built in the 70s to replace the beach road and serve the Piasau Camp and the Shell headquarters in Lutong and Lutong bazaar.

Later, when the Piasau Camp was handed back to the Sarawak government, the present road was built to serve Bayshore and the old Lutong airport area.

 

Sense of fear

Mirian Julian Tan remembers, as students, he and his friends travelled to Brunei by a slow bus which took many hours.

Despite the long drive, he said they felt the beach was a wonderful place to drive through.

An excavator removes sand and debris from the beach road.

“We felt safe back then but today as I look at the damaged road and the choppy sea nearby, I have a heightened sense of fear. The sea can be so rough. It’s best to keep a guarded distance – better safe than sorry. Something has to be done before it’s too late.”

Tan recalled the beach had more casuarinas and sea hibiscus trees and some coconut trees too but now all along the Bayshore area, you see only tall grass and some sea hibiscus trees.

“Maybe we need huge rocks or some kind of retaining wall to prevent the sea from eating up the land like in Batu Satu.”

Sarimah, who sells bananas at a stall near the Anderson Bridge, said the sea hibiscus trees and a small spit prevented her stall from being washed away by the waves after a stormy night. And she herself had a lucky escape.

She recalled seeing huge volumes of water flowing towards Lutong Secondary School and Kampung Pasir behind the Bayshore residential area.

“It was terrible to see so much water rising so fast. I had to get out of there quickly to avoid getting caught.”

 

Expanding kampung

Kampung Pasir behind the Lutong Government School has been around since the 1950s. It grew from a small enclave of wooden huts with just 10 or more families to more than 100 now.

The original residents were the main labourers employed for short-term and long-term projects of Shell and other private companies. Some were fishermen and civil servants.

Now the area is seeing the presence of the second and third generations. Some of the houses look rather worn down while others have concrete ground floors.

A Kampung Pasir resident points to the first floor of his house to indicate the level of the water during the king tide.

According to Mary, a caretaker and part-time gardener, the residents never intended to stay long in Lutong but found good jobs and opportunities and decided to put down roots.

Like her, they stayed on – at first for one year which led to five years, then to a permanent stay in Kampung Pasir.

Mary is happy SUPP leaders had recently given her kampung a new plank walk, saying it would keep them safe from the floodwaters for the time being.

She used to cycle to the Piasau Camp to work as a cleaner but after the occupants left, she had to find another job.

Some of her relatives, who used to live in Kampung Api Api, have moved to Tudan with the government’s help. Although Mary did not have the opportunity to get a piece of land, she is happy with her present job.

In the past, Kampung Api Api and her kampung experienced a lot of flooding during the Landas.

“Even now, the sea is eating into our land. It seems even the Lutong Secondary School is getting very near the sea now,” Mary noted.

She said motorcyclists were taking a lot risks when they rode along Lutong Beach Road.

“During the day, the sand makes the road very slippery. When the storm comes, it washes up a lot of debris and logs to the road. Motorists will find it impossible to navigate without getting some people to remove the logs.

Lutong Beach Road after a few nights of stormy weather.

“It’s good that today an excavator is around to remove the logs and even the tree branches. The sand keeps getting washed in by the waves. It is, indeed, a headache.”

Salleh, a Kampung Pasir resident, showed thesundaypost how high the king tide had risen.

“It was almost up to the first floor of my house on silts. Luckily, the water receded quite fast,” he said with relief.

There were chickens, dogs, and cats about while some old people sat around, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun.

Some kind of project appeared to be going on at the drain area behind the kampung, while a small wooden bridge nearby indicated how the villagers took a shortcut to the old Lutong airport.

According to a newspaper report, Minister of Transport Datuk Lee Kim Shin had said a 500-metre rock revetment would be put up as a retaining wall to prevent flotsam and jetsam getting washed onto the road.

The erosion along Lutong Beach Road has been ongoing since the 1950s. Heaps of detritus brought by storms, especially during the night, are a common sight.

 

Bubuk season

The situation needs to be properly addressed.

When the bubuk season arrives – which will be quite soon – many people will be gathering at the beach to catch the krill or buy them from the fishermen’s stalls.

While looking forward to better days, Mary and Sarimah know only too well that, if unmitigated, erosion would further damage the road and no one would be able to drive to this part of town.

“Where can we set up our stalls then? It won’t be convenient any more. With the banks being eroded, our small boats can actually berth at the creek by the Anderson Bridge,” Mary said.

The line of concrete structures and wooden posts stand as a testimony to the decades of efforts made to prevent coastal erosion in the area.

What will the future be for the Lutong Beach Road and the residents who need it to commute? Only time will tell.