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Worst floods in Malaysia uproot thousands

Malaysia's worst floods in 37 years have displaced nearly 100,000 people amid food shortages and looting.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2006 15:50 IST

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

Heavy rain in neighbouring 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 are expected to continue until Sunday, the weather bureau said in a latest report.

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, enroute to Australia for his holiday after an official visit to Venezuela, made a surprise detour to Johor on Saturday 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.

Desperate victims

"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.

The going rate was between 50 and 100 ringgit ($14 and $28), it said.

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

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

"A full and independent inquiry into the monster floods in southern peninsula Malaysia and the horror stories of inhumanity, greed and incompetence is clearly warranted," parliamentary Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang said.

In Indonesia, officials said twelve people were missing, possibly dead, after heavy rains sent floodwaters up to two metres high racing through 12 districts in North Sumatra province.

"One died and 12 people are missing, but we can not confirm yet whether the missing have died or not," Syam Sumarno, spokesman of Langkat regency in North Sumatra, said by telephone.

Sumarno blamed heavy rains that began on Friday, as well as the heavy deforestation of the region for the flood's destruction. "About 17,000 people are being evacuated," he said.

In neighbouring Aceh, 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.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, Syahbuddin Usman, head of Tamiang regency, told Reuters, but local rice paddies were damaged and cattle killed by the rising waters.