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Monday, October 27, 2008

Parts of northern Sarawak cut off after floods

The people of interior Baram district in northern Sarawak have been cut off from the outside world following widespread floods and a fuel shortage.

The district, with a population of some 30,000 people living in an area the size of the state of Johor, was inundated with flood waters that measured more than a metre deep following heavy downpour over the past 24 hours.

Road access linking towns, bazaars and longhouses were severed while rivers overflowed their banks and swelled to dangerous levels. As at 2pm Monday, Marudi town and six remote bazaars inside Baram district were affected.

A spokesman of the flood operations centre in Marudi said land linkages with people in longhouses and riverine villages in Long Bedian, Long Bemang, Long Wad, Long Panai, Long Banyok and Long Ikang have been severed.

SK Benawa has been shut down, and more than 200 pupils are now stranded in more than a metre of water.

The ferry that links the two banks of the mighty Baram River near Marudi town have also been halted because of dangerous river currents.

This means that those who had gone by road from Miri to Marudi are now stranded because they cannot get back across the Baram River to travel back to Miri.

Baram MP Datuk Jacob Sagan held an emergency meeting on Monday at noon with the various heads of departments to discuss plans for evacuation if the situation worsens.

A police spokesman in Marudi and Long Lama, when contacted, said those villagers stranded are still living in their longhouses.

“Some longhouses are under more than a metre of water, but the residents are still staying put, hopeful that the rain will stop soon. We have not received any request to initiate any evacuation,” said the spokesman.

The situation in Baram was made even more chaotic when fuel supplies depleted Monday.
Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry chief for Miri Division Zakaria Awang on Monday confirmed that the fuel shortage in Baram had reached critical level.

“Over the past few days, there was a lot of overbuying because the price of fuel had dropped. However, the supplier in Marudi town did not replenish his stock because he lost more than RM20,000 following the fuel price adjustment.

“He had ordered a large amount of fuel based on the old price. The stock that came from Bintulu (500km south of Marudi) was sold at the new price and he had to sell the stock he bought (at the old price) using the new price structure, that was why he lost a lot of money.

“However, my ministry had directed him to start ordering new stock as the shortage in Baram may worsen. I have spoken to the Shell depot in Bintulu and asked them to send up emergency supplies to Baram as soon as possible.

“However, they are concerned about the floods in Baram. Access roads had been cut off and the rivers had swelled to dangerous levels and they may not be able to send in the emergency supplies,” he said.

Bintulu is about 400km south of Baram district. There are two ways to ferry fuel from Bintulu to Marudi town which is the transit town into other settlements in Baram.

First is via road link from Bintulu to Miri and then using timber road to Marudi, but the timber roads are now flooded and impassable.

The other way is to send fuel to Marudi using the Baram River, but this will take a long time.

Furthermore, boats can only accommodate very limited number of fuel drums and the Baram river is too dangerous for cargo vessels due to the heavy rain and rising water.

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