Malaysia floods force 25,000 to leave homes, river project slammed as useless

Flash floods in northern Malaysia have forced some 25,000 people from their homes in Kelantan and Terengganu so far after the Golok River hit record highs, with waters trapping entire communities across the border area with Thailand.

With no signs of heavy rains subsiding, there are fears of a repeat of the devastating 2014 flooding in Malaysia.

As of midnight on Christmas Day, the Golok rose to 11.04 metres (36.2 feet), according to government data, higher than the 10.84 metres recorded in the 2014 flood, which eventually led to over 300,000 people being evacuated nationwide.

A car flooded in Kelantan’s Rantau Panjang town. Photo: Facebook/RantauPanjangPost

A “severe and dangerous warning” remained in force on Tuesday across Kelantan and Terengganu, according to Shazlinda Hanif, a meteorologist at the Meteorological Department Malaysia (MET).

Images of people trapped inside homes with rescue boats struggling against fast-moving floodwaters have been widely shared on social media. Videos shared on TikTok of submerged villages and rescue vehicles trapped on roads give a glimpse into the scale of the unfolding disaster.

“The water rose to our chins,” Rantau Panjang resident Faris Roslan said, showing videos of the deluge hitting his village. “God is great. If we were swept away in this … that would be the end.”

The MET has warned heavy rains are likely to persist in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Perak until Wednesday.

There has been no official announcement of fatalities yet from the floods.

Police sources in Rantau Panjang were conducting search and rescue efforts to locate a young boy who was believed to have been swept away by floodwaters earlier on Monday.

Unlike the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula, which is sheltered from adverse weather by the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the east coast is exposed to the open waters of the South China Sea, leading to frequent floods, particularly around the northeast monsoon season between October and December.


Nearly 40,000 people forced to flee flood-hit homes in southern Malaysia

Nearly 40,000 people forced to flee flood-hit homes in southern Malaysia

The Malaysian government deployed the Special Malaysian Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team on Monday afternoon to the hard-hit border area, but police and fire services have been struggling to carry out rescue efforts.

Several major roads connecting towns in the largely rural northeastern corner of the Malaysian peninsula have been closed after being declared unsafe for all vehicles.

This has led to many travellers – including those traversing the Malaysia-Thailand border for the long Christmas break – being stranded and unable to return home.

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In neighbouring Thailand, tens of thousands have also been severely affected by the floods, with local broadcasters sharing images of flooding up to rooftops of houses while railways and roads were covered by muddy waters.

As floods rose in Kelantan, many have raised questions about the billions of ringgit invested in flood mitigation projects since the 2014 disaster.

Locals in Kelantan bemoaned the ineffectiveness of the dredging and a dyke completed in the state to date, saying the project was carried out without proper assessment of the flow of the Golok River.

“Because of this project, the people now also face stagnant floods in several villages as the floodwater cannot recede into the river,” a Rantau Panjang resident said in a post on Facebook.

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Last December, Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad announced flood mitigation efforts for the Golok River will cost 2.156 billion ringgit (US$470 million), with the first of three phases to be completed in August 2024.

The project is politically sensitive, as it was initially approved by the previous administration before being placed under review by the current government of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

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