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Saturday October 9, 2010

50km logjam on the Rajang river

SIBU: Logs and debris, stretching for 50km on the Rajang river, reached Sibu town at about 10am yesterday leaving many people shocked by the scale of what is turning out to be an environmental disaster.

“This is unprecedented and beyond imagination,” Environment and Public Health Minister Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh said after assessing the situation at the Express Passenger Boat Terminal in the morning.

According to a statement from the Natural Resources and Environment Board, the source of these logs and debris were from the Baleh River and its tributaries above Kapit.

Several days of heavy rain earlier this week in Putai and Nu­­ngun in upper Baleh had caused a massive landslide which brought down the logs and debris into the rivers. The high water level and swift current in Baleh River and its tributaries also washed the logs and debris along their banks.

Passage hindered: An express passenger boat trying to weave its way through the logs in the Rajang river as it leaves Sibu.

Wong said it was a serious natural disaster which had caught both the public and government off guard.

“We haven’t started to calculate the amount of losses and the damage caused,” he said, adding that once the logs and debris had made their way out of Sibu, the authorities would start to check the foundation of the Durin and Lanang bridges.

It was estimated by a sawmill manager that the volume of the logs and debris would be more than 300,000m3.

The situation was worse around noon when the whole area at the confluence of the Rajang and Igan rivers was completely logjammed. Most of the logs and debris flowed down the Rajang while some of them flowed to the Igan.

The map explains the events leading up to the logjam.

The Malay villages which were built on stilts on the right bank of the Igan were fortunate to escape calamity as the logs and debris flowed near the opposite bank.

Meanwhile, Land Development Minister Datuk Seri James Masing blamed unscrupulous timber companies for the disaster. He travelled up the river to Kapit yesterday and was disturbed by what he saw.

“There is still a lot of debris, making travel unsafe. There are also dead fish in the river. It’s an ecological disaster,” Masing, the Baleh assemblyman, told The Star.

He said that this was the third time in three years – the first was in 2008 at Sungai Gat and the second in Sungai Tunoh last year – that such an incident had happened and he feared that it would have far-reaching implications on the state, particularly on the timber industry.

He said the state government had laid down rules for logging but what was happening clearly showed that the rules were not being followed.

“I have gone around the world telling people that we are doing logging correctly. Now this happens. What will people think of us? We must take action against these unscrupulous timber companies.”

He said the authorities concerned must take their job more seriously and enforce the laws stringently.

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