2006-2007 floods still linger on the minds of Kota Tinggi folk

KOTA TINGGI: The mark of the flood water level at the clock tower located in the middle of Kota Tinggi town is a grim reminder of the two big floods that hit the district six years ago.

Kota Tinggi was the hardest hit district in Johor in the worst flood that ever happened in the state in over 50 years forcing more than 100,000 people to be evacuated to relief centres.

The entire Kota Tinggi town and nearby housing areas were totally submerged for nearly two weeks and they were cut off from neighbouring towns due to high flood waters and landslide.

The flood waters, measuring between 4 and 5.5m, had caused extensive damages and losses to public infrastructures, private properties and businesses.

The largest district in Johor with a land area of 3,488 sq km, Kota Tinggi is often called “the historical district” because of its importance as the seat of the Old Johor Sultanate.

The headlands and secluded river shores along Sungai Johor were ideal for the establishments of settlements and defence forts against enemy invasion in the old days; hence the name Kota Tinggi or high fort.

Traces or remnants of the historical settlements could be traced around the areas and the river banks in Johor Lama, Panchor, Bukit Seluyut, Sayong Pinang and Kota Tinggi town.

Many self-proclaimed treasure hunters claimed to have discovered artefacts such as old coins, animal-shaped currencies made from tin, blue and white Chinese ceramics, beads and Malay weapons from the sites.

Kota Tinggi was also the first choice for the Johor State New Administrative Centre to be known as Johor Perdana overlooking Sungai Johor.

However, the project was scrapped off due to the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98, and the site was found not suitable as it was located on a flood-prone area.

When the economy recovered, Nusajaya in Gelang Patah was chosen as the new site for the new administrative state seat known as Kota Iskandar.

Kota Tinggi constituency is made up two state seats - Sedili and Johor Lama - famous for its beaches, holiday chalets, fresh seafood and thousands of fireflies along the river.

Although there have been no more major flooding after 2006 and 2007, many of the residents are still worried whenever it rains heavily and hope for continued assistance from the government to address the rising cost of living.

Some of them also hope for another bridge across Sg Johor due to the increasing traffic congestion, increased police presence to check on crime and more efforts to promote tourism in the area.

“It’s a kind of déjà vu for me and I don’t want to imagine going through the dark episode again,’’ said proprietor of Sufkha Enterprise Johari Omar, 51 when talking about the major floods in the district.

Johari, who runs a shop in Kota Tinggi town for 20 years selling accessories and items for Malay engagement and wedding ceremonies lost RM100,000 in the flood.

Like all other Kota Tinggi residents, Johari thought that the rain on December 2006 and January 2007, was like the normal rain during monsoon season but he was wrong.

He said prior to that flooding was a usual occurrence in the Kota Tinggi.

He said the flood mitigation projects including widening the monsoon drains and deepening the rivers undertaken by the relevant authorities have so far helped to prevent a repeat of the major floods.

However, Johari pointed out that flash floods still happened occasionally especially at areas in Taman Mawai, Jalan Lukut China and Taman Gunung Emas.

For the Malay wedding paraphernalia and tailoring shop accessories owner who only wanted to be known as Madam Teng, 60, the sound of the rain was not something pleasant to her ears.

“It worries me a lot when it rains heavily especially at nights, no one knows whether the water level is going to rise again,’’ she said.

Teng joked others might pull up their blankets when it rained, she on the other hand would have a sleepless night, not knowing whether the floods would occur again.

Her shop located just a few metres away from Johari’s suffered even bigger loss in the flood, almost RM500,000.

Teng said December was a good month for her business as most Malay wedding ceremonies were held during the long school holidays, but December 2006 was not meant to be.

“I’m grateful so far that no major flooding happens this year here despite heavy rains last December and early this year,’’ said Teng.

Similarly, she was grateful to the Government for the distribution of the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) and the windfalls from Felda Group to Felda settlers.

Teng said most of her regular customers came from the Felda settlements in the Kota Tinggi district, and with extra money in hands, they had increased their spending at her shop.

She hoped that the allocation of BR1M be carried out in a transparent manner as Teng claimed that few of her friends aged between 60 and 70 years old did not receive the RM500 despite applying for it.

Teng was also not happy with the cash handout given by the Government to young people as they might spend the money on cigarettes or other vice activities.

“Let this young people learn that there is no easy way to earn money, only then they will be more appreciative of life,’’ said Teng.

Assistant optometrist Mazuwa Mohd Mol, 28, from Felda Sungai Mas who travels about 40km from her house to her working place in Kota Tinggi town is worried of crime than flood.

The optic shop where she works is located just metres away from a row of shop and offices which house several banks and many times Mazuwa had witnessed snatch thefts taking place in front of the banks.

Mazuwa said these snatch thieves believed to be drug addicts work in pairs or groups and always loitered at the parking areas of the shops and offices eyeing potential victims.

She said one gang member would be pretending to be a customer at the bank and his accomplice would wait on a bike and ready to charge when given signal by the former.

Mazuwa said not only snatch thefts that took place in front of the banks but also pukau cases involving those depositing or withdrawing money from the banks.

“Late last year, a 57-year old woman from Felda Sungai Mas lost about RM8,000 when she wanted to deposit her money in the bank,’’ she said.

Mazuwa said the victim not only lost her money, she even went back home under the spell and came back later to hand over her gold jewellery to the perpetrator who was waiting for her in front of the bank.

She said that it seemed the pukau gang was targeting at Felda settlers soon after news of windfalls given to them by Felda were widely reported in the media.

“Hopefully, the police could set up a permanent police beat in front of the shop offices and increase patrolling in and around the town,’’ said Mazuwa.

Maintenance worker G. Ramesh, 38, said Kota Tinggi town needed a second bridge as the present one could no longer cater to increase in traffic volume.

He said the state government had announced to build a second bridge to overcome the traffic congestion near the police station, but two general elections had passed, the project is yet to become a reality.

Sundry shop owner Saravanan Rajoo, 34, from Taman Sri Lalang said while drains in and around Kota Tinggi town were regularly cleaned, it was not the same for drains in nearby housing estates.

He said not only the clogged drains could cause flash floods anytime if it rained heavily; there were also perfect breeding spots for mosquitoes which could spread dengue fever.

“Another major issue here is lack of affordable houses and hopefully the Government can extend the affordable housing scheme to the district,’’ said Saravanan.

Over to Tanjung Sedili, prawn breeder Ee Kah Who, 57, said Sedili had beautiful beaches and lush jungle reserves overlooking the South China Sea which could be promoted as tourist attraction.

However, he said the Johor Toursim Department gave too much focus on Mersing and islands off Mersing waters and neglected the beaches in Sedili.

“Hopefully, the local council should consider building a plank or boardwalk at the jungle reserves as recreational place for locals,’’ said Ee.

For retired teacher Raja Alis Raja Mat, 56, from Kampung Sedili Besar, not much development could be seen taking place in Sedili area.

He said Sedili was popular with Johoreans from Johor Baru, Batu Pahat and Muar as well as Singaporeans due to the area’s laidback atmosphere.

“It is a heaven for anglers including Singaporeans especially on weekends as many of them can really get a good catch from the waters off Sedili,’’ said Raja Alis.

But, he said locals were hungered for development and it was timely for the government to implement projects that could create economic spillover to the local community.

Raja Alis said one of the things that the state government should look into was to relocate the traditional fishermen to better settlement to improve their standard of leaving.

He said it would be good to build an integrated marine complex for fishermen in Sedili to land their catch as well as the processing the centre for their catch.

This general election, both Barisan Nasional and the opposition will be working hard to woo the 40,757 voters in the constituency.