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Friday October 25, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday October 25, 2013 MYT 7:22:31 AM
by isabelle lai
Dam workers monitoring the water level at the Sultan Abu Bakar dam at Bertam Valley. — Bernama
PETALING JAYA: The three deaths at Cameron Highlands were an avoidable tragedy, caused by the stubbornness of farmers and villagers, said district officer Datuk Ahmad Daud.
Authorities, he said, had tried to relocate the farmers and villagers away from the river reserve for the past five years.
“However, they refused and even blocked our attempts to relocate them,” he said in an interview, pointing out that no human activity was allowed to take place on river reserves.
The decision to release water in a controlled manner was made by Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), sounding the warning sirens for half an hour before this was done for the first time at midnight, followed by a second and third release at 1am and 2.45am.
However, during the incident which also destroyed nearly 100 houses, villagers claimed that they had either not heard the sirens through the pouring rain or chosen to ignore it as they were used to the sound.
Ahmad said he hoped the farmers and villagers would learn from the tragedy and relocate their farms and residences.
He also said siltation in the dam was a huge problem due to the farmers’ poor attitude in properly disposing of their agricultural waste..
Local authorities, Ahmad pointed out, had organised educational programmes and events such as gotong-royong to clean up the rivers but had received poor response from the farmers.
He said the water level in the dam had also risen rapidly due to the presence of the white plastic sheets seen in farms all over Cameron Highlands, adding that these caused the rainwater to flow swiftly into the rivers without first being filtered by the ground.
Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) president Datuk Seri Azman Mohd said it had followed all procedures, stressing that its action had actually averted a massive flooding disaster.
It had been necessary to release water in a controlled manner from the dam as water levels had reached a critical level in a matter of hours, said Azman, who is also TNB chief executive officer.
“If we allow the water to rise in the dam, then all of the four gates will open automatically. This would mean massive flooding. We only opened one gate – as much as 20% – which is the standard operating procedure,” he said, adding that the water level had risen quickly due to existing siltation and heavy rain while an abnormal flash flood at Sungai Ringlet also played a contributing factor.
His staff, said Azman, had alerted the local authorities and the Bertam Valley village chief at around 9.30pm on Tuesday night when the water level hit 3,505ft, the level where authorities were required to begin evacuation.
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Environment, cameron highlands, district officer
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