Sun, Dec 24, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Hundreds of thousands displaced by Southeast Asia's worst flood in years


Malaysia's worst floods in 37 years have displaced nearly 100,000 people amid food shortages, looting and criticism yesterday of the government's handling of the crisis.

Heavy rain in neighboring Indonesia -- exacerbated by deforestation -- also drove thousands from their homes and at least one person was killed and 12 are missing.

Malaysian weathermen warned the floods, which hit the southern states, could spread to the central and northeastern parts of the country if the unusually heavy monsoon rains persisted.

The rains over the Malaysian states of Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang were expected to continue until today, the weather bureau said in the latest report.

The likelihood of Kuala Lumpur experiencing heavy rainfall was slim, the bureau said in a statement.

Six people, all in the worst-hit state of Johor, have now died in the floods, which the government described as the worst since 1969.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, en route to Australia for his holiday after an official visit to Venezuela, made a surprise detour to Johor yesterday to visit flood victims.

"We want to ensure that everyone gets to return home safely," the national Bernama news agency quoted him as saying after visiting a shelter in Johor.

The floods, which followed this week's heaviest rainfall in a century, submerged buildings and cut off roads in Kota Tinggi and several other towns in Johor, which borders Singapore.

Newspapers reported looting in the towns of Kota Tinggi and Segamat. There were also cases of rescuers demanding money from flood victims before rescuing them, the Star newspaper said.

"I was desperate and did not know what to do," the Star quoted Abdul Rashid Maidin, one of several people whom it said paid the money, as saying.

Flood victims also complained of lack of food, clothing, blankets and running water at many of the relief shelters.

Opposition leaders criticized the government's handling of the crisis, saying relief operations were in complete disarray.

Several countries have offered humanitarian aid to Malaysia, but the government said that it did not need help to tackle the floods.

In Indonesia's Aceh Province, an official said, the rains had swamped 11 of 12 districts in the Tamiang regency, forcing about half the local population of around 300,000 people to flee.

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