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Friday December 29, 2006

Mother Nature hits back

NATURE’S fury wreaked havoc on mankind this year, with thousands of people losing their lives due to the massive destruction caused by a multitude of natural disasters, including floods, landslides and cyclones. 

The country experienced one of its worst floods since 1971, affecting Johor, Malacca, Negri Sembilan and Pahang. Johor was the worst hit. Heavy rain – the highest recorded in 100 years – caused floods in Johor Baru and several major towns this month. The rain continued for more than a week. At its peak, some 80,000 people were displaced, and eight casualties were recorded. A week later, there were still some 58,000 flood victims at relief centres. 

Many states in Malaysia, at one point or another, were hit by floods caused by torrential rains this year. In January, continuous rain in Johor caused five rivers to burst their banks and flood surrounding areas. More than 1,100 people were forced to evacuate their homes. 

Similar occurrences blighted large swathes of land not only in Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu, but also in Shah Alam, Selangor, where 3,000 homes were flooded when a two-hour downpour caused Sungai Damansara to overflow its banks in February. 

Evacuees heading towards a relief centre in Kota Tinggi, Johor, recently. The state experienced one of the worst floods since 1971 this month.
Things were far from rosy in other countries that bore the brunt of Nature’s wrath. China was hit by two typhoons in as many months. In July, more than a quarter of a million people were evacuated from the heavily populated Fujian province to escape Tropical Storm Bilis, while close to 250 people were killed in the floods and other rain-related disasters it caused. Barely a month later, Typhoon Saomai, the strongest typhoon to hit China in half a century, killed more than 100 people. It was the eighth storm to hit China this year. 

In June, two weeks of heavy rain created floods that killed almost 110 people and caused 560,000 people to be evacuated to high ground. In all, nearly 12 million people in nine provinces, regions and municipalities in China were affected by the weather. Landslides and mudslides around the world wiped out entire villages in countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. In January, around 200 people were killed in a village in central Indonesia when a torrent of mud slammed into dozens of homes, burying all the occupants inside. Just over a month later, 1,400 people, including 200 schoolchildren in a primary school, were buried alive when a massive wall of mud tore apart a village in the south of the Philippines’ Leyte Island. 

The situation was mirrored by events at home in Malaysia when a landslide flattened three blocks of longhouses in Kampung Pasir, Ulu Klang. Four people, all from one family, were killed and another 232, mostly Indonesians, were left without a roof over their heads. 

Indonesia once again became the target of a dreaded tsunami, though not one as destructive as the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. The result of an undersea earthquake that measured 6.2 on the Richter scale, the tsunami, which had waves of up to 1.5m high, crashed into the beach resort of Pangandaran, 270km southeast of Jakarta. The death toll exceeded 550 people. There was no warning ahead of the killer waves despite regional efforts to set up early alert systems after the 2004 tsunami. 

On one side of the world it was thunder and typhoons, but on the other it was the opposite, with searing weather causing thermometer readings to shoot up the scale. In Britain, temperatures hit an all-time high in the month of July, touching 36.3°C in the south of London to edge out the previous record set in 1911, while in California more than two consecutive weeks of the deadly heat wave caused the deaths of at least 126 people, mostly senior citizens. 

Malaysia too had its share of heat-related woes, though ours were caused not by nature, but by human intervention. The suffocating haze, which has become a yearly event, returned in the later part of the year.  

Earthquakes also caused a lot of misery in Iran (70 deaths) and Yogyakarta, Indonesia (309 deaths).  

There were also a fair number of tragedies caused by human error. Plane crashes in the Black Sea, Siberia, Ukraine and Kentucky resulted in the loss of 460 lives. 

A ferry carrying 1,272 passengers from Saudi Arabia to Egypt sank in the Red Sea in February, killing 185 people. A similar tragedy had happened just two days earlier in eastern Indonesia, though in that mishap, most of the 159 people on board were saved. 

The Grim Reaper did not even spare people who were on religious pilgrimages. There were two unfortunate incidents during the annual pilgrimage to Makkah in January. In the first, five Malaysians and 18 from other nations died when a hostel in Makkah collapsed, while the second tragedy happened during the stoning ritual on the last day of the Haj. In the sacred event’s worst tragedy in a decade, at least 345 pilgrims were crushed to death as they were jostling to perform the ritual. 

A chartered bus taking 37 pilgrims to the St Anne’s Feast in Bukit Mertajam, Penang, crashed near Nibong Tebal on July 30, killing 11 people. 

Lightning caused an inferno at the Johor Port in Pasir Gudang in April.

Jan 4 

200 feared dead: A torrent of mud slammed into dozens of homes, burying Cijeruk, a village in central Indonesia, beneath tonnes of mud and rock. More than 170 people were missing and feared dead.  


Jan 7 

Pilgrimage tragedy: Five Malaysians from Sabah were among those who died when a hostel collapsed in Makkah as thousands of Muslims gathered for the Haj. 


Jan 8 

Johor flood: Continuous rains in the state over the past three days resulted in at least five rivers overflowing their banks, forcing more than 1,100 people out of their homes. The worst hit areas were around Johor Baru. Some 728 people from Kampung Maju Jaya and Kampung Laut, Skudai, were evacuated to two relief centres after Sungai Senai and Sungai Tebrau burst their banks.  


Jan 12 

Haj stampede: At least 345 Muslims were crushed to death during a stoning ritual on the last day of the Haj, the worst tragedy to beset the sacred event in more than a decade. Saudi officials said the pilgrims were crushed at the eastern entrance of Mina’s disaster-prone Jamarat Bridge as they jostled to perform the stoning between noon and sunset. There were no Malaysian casualties. 


Feb 1 

114 saved: Navy ships picked up 114 survivors after a passenger ferry went down in heavy seas in eastern Indonesia but dozens of other people were still missing when officials called off rescue efforts for the day.  


Feb 3 

Red Sea tragedy: A ferry, Salaam 98, carrying 1,272 passengers sank in the Red Sea overnight on a trip from Saudi Arabia to Egypt and search-and-rescue teams pulled out at least 46 dead bodies from the water. The teams also plucked up to 100 survivors from the sea.  


Feb 6 

Review disaster plan: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi called for a review of the country’s natural disaster plan, saying it was outdated and needed to be reviewed. Abdullah said the plan should not be lacking in any way as it was meant to help the public in times of disaster, and that a weak disaster plan should not be the reason for poor assistance. 


Feb 18 

Landslide tragedy: A massive wall of mud slammed into a village in the south of the Philippines’ Leyte Island, burying an estimated 1,400 people, including some 200 schoolchildren.  


Feb 26 

Stormy Sunday: Thousands of residents in Shah Alam were rudely awakened at dawn by floodwaters gushing into their homes. Two hours of heavy rain since 3.30am had resulted in Sungai Damansara overflowing its banks and the waters inundating 3,000 houses. The worst affected areas were Taman TTDI Jaya, Kampung Melayu Kebun Bunga, Kampung Melayu Subang, Kampung Baru Hicom and Batu Tiga. Thousands of vehicles were diverted to alternative routes after the 15th kilometre stretch along the Federal Highway and the ninth kilometre of the New Klang Valley Expressway (NKVE) were flooded. 


April 28 

Lightning strike: Lightning caused an inferno at the Johor Port in Pasir Gudang that could be seen 10km away and from across the straits in Singapore. The bolt came during an evening thunderstorm, striking a tank that held nearly 90,000 litres of petrol. When the sparks flew, two bigger tanks – with a total capacity of about 700,000 litres – also went up in flames. All the tanks were situated at the Petronas Dagangan Bhd fuel depot. 


May 3 

Plane crash: An Airbus A-320 belonging to an Armenian airliner crashed into the Black Sea, killing all 113 passengers and crew on board. Investigators blamed bad weather, while Justice officials had no reason to suspect a bomb. 


May 27 

Temblor hits Java: A powerful earthquake rocked Indonesia’s Central Java province, flattening buildings and killing at least 309 people, while scores of people were injured. The 6.2-magnitude quake also triggered heightened activity in the region’s deadly Gunung Merapi volcano, which had been spewing out clouds of hot ash, gas and lava for several weeks.  


May 31 

Ulu Klang landslide: A landslide flattened three blocks of longhouses in Kampung Pasir, Ulu Klang, leaving 232 people, mostly Indonesians, homeless. Four people were killed in the incident.  


June 10 

Floods hit China: Floods following two weeks of heavy rainfall in southern China killed 93 people, while more than half a million people were evacuated to higher ground. Nearly 12 million people in nine provinces, regions and municipalities were affected by the weather, and at least 560,000 people were evacuated. 


July 9 

Siberian plane crash: A Russian passenger plane burst into flames after it crashed on landing in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, killing at least 118 people. Russian news agencies said the death toll could be close to 150. The Airbus A-310 plane, on a flight from Moscow to Irkutsk, veered off the runway as it was landing and hit a concrete barrier.  


July 14 

China evacuates 250,000: China evacuated a quarter of a million people in the path of a severe tropical storm bearing down on its southeastern coast. Fujian province moved over 250,000 people to safety as Tropical Storm Bilis, which caused several deaths in the Philippines and swept across northern Taiwan overnight, churned towards land. 


July 17 

Tsunami terror: A strong undersea earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale off the southern coast of Java island triggered a tsunami that swept away buildings at an Indonesian beach resort. Waves up to 1.5m high crashed into Pangandaran Beach near Indonesia’s Ciamis town, around 270km southeast of Jakarta. The death toll exceeded 550 people. There was no warning ahead of the killer waves despite regional efforts to set up early alert systems after the massive Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. 


July 19 

Heatwave hits: European governments scrambled to save lives in record high temperatures to avoid a repeat of the catastrophic heatwave of 2003 that killed 15,000 people in France and 2,000 in Britain. In Britain, temperatures hit an all-time high for the month of July, touching 36.3°C in the south of London.  


July 21 

Water havoc: Floods and other rain-related disasters in the wake of typhoon Bilis which hit China, took the death toll to 228, as unusually strong rains battered other parts of north Asia. The death toll from the typhoon rose to 63 in Guangdong, while 30 people were killed in neighbouring Guangxi, and the toll in the southern provinces of Hunan and Fujian stood at 135, after Bilis hit heavily populated southern China.  


July 30 

Pilgrims killed: Eleven pilgrims to the annual St Anne’s Feast were killed when the chartered bus they were in crashed at the 160.8km of the North-South Expressway near Nibong Tebal. Passengers, mostly parishioners of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes and Buntong Tiga Chapel in Ipoh, were on their way to Bukit Mertajam. Ten pilgrims died on the spot and another on the way to the Sungai Bakap Hospital. Fifteen people – including the driver – were warded at nearby hospitals, while another 22 passengers received outpatient treatment. 


Aug 11 

Saomai strikes: The strongest typhoon to hit China in half a century killed 104 people, with the toll likely to rise. Typhoon Saomai tore into Cangnan county in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and a further 190 people were missing in Zhejiang and neighbouring Fujian province. Saomai, the eighth storm to hit China this year, crossed the coast with winds of 216kph, and was downgraded from a maximum category 5 “super” typhoon to category 4 as it made landfall. 


Aug 22 

Russian airliner crash: A Russian airliner carrying 170 people crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all on board after flying into a severe thunderstorm. Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said there were no survivors.  


Dec 19  

Worst in a century: Life in Johor came to a standstill when heavy rain which lasted over 24 hours – the worst in 100 years – caused severe floods in Johor Baru and several major towns.  


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