11 November 2017

Flood Damage

A heavy rainstorm that began during the day on Saturday, November 4th, and continued all throughout the following night caused some of the worst flooding our island has ever experienced.

Tropical rainstorms are a normal part of life during the rainy season here, and in this part of the world, low-lying areas are prone to flooding from time to time, but no one expected the far-reaching damage that this storm would cause.

{Taken the evening of the storm}

We slept through the storm, periodically waking to the sounds of heavy rain and wind. In the morning, Angel went out first thing to check on our car because he could see that branches were down in the parking lot. The car was fine--just weeks ago, trees around our apartment complex had gotten majorly trimmed down, and that probably was a big factor in how little tree damage we had here. We noticed some leaking in our storage room--an on-and-off problem when we have serious rainstorms, but still weren't aware of the extent of this particular storm.

My parents called to tell us that getting out on the local roads was difficult due to a number of downed trees on all major roads. We then started hearing updates from friends that low-lying areas of Penang had flooded, and we heard of one friend's home that had flooded, so about mid-morning I sent Angel out to see what he could do to help with clean-up efforts.

It felt like it took us a while to really find out the extent of the effects of the flooding, but more stories and situations and photos began to pour in and everything really started to hit home. Landslides had occurred around the island, a road within walking distance from our apartment collapsed, the car ferry had floated up and gotten itself grounded on the pier, and some area homes had already been submerged under water for hours.

This is a mountainous island--to some extent, everything is either built on a hill or in a valley, and in the neighborhoods in the valleys that are suffering most after this storm. Because this flood is so much more severe than any we've experienced before, some residents believe strongly that the constantly growing population and constantly growing building/development/skyscraper industry paired with a lack of growth in drainage infrastructure that has caused the island not to be able to handle this severe of a storm.

But at this point, in the short-term, we can't be most worried about what caused these effects or how to prevent them in the future. Instead, right now we need to find people dry places to sleep and food to eat and electrical appliances and clean homes so that they can return to normal life.

 {The flood level rose to about 4 feet high in this home}

One of the biggest casualties to the flood is vehicles. Hundreds of cars parked on streets and in parking lots were submerged up to their roofs, thousands of motorcycles were in the similar state. In a moment, you realize just how important a car is to life--it's a way to get to work, it's a means of transportation to anywhere else you might need to go, it's a big financial investment. Because flood damage is not typically covered by insurance, many of these cars will be marked a total loss and owners will be left to work with paying the amount still due on their car loans, or, if they owned their car in full, they'll still have to find a way to fund the purchase of a replacement vehicle.

Everyone here who remembers the tsunami of 2004 keeps bringing up how this time brings back so many memories of that disaster. Then, too, no one had any warning of the damage that was approaching, and it took at least a day for the knowledge of the full extent of the disaster that had occurred to find its way to us. For the second time in my life, I'm seeing friends--this time people I've known for literally half of my life--lose nearly everything they own to water damage. Irreplaceable things, like photo albums and journals are particularly vulnerable to floods. So are expensive purchases, like electronics and mattresses...and most things you own, when you think about it. Once again, we see the immense power of water, how the sheer force of it can flip heavy pieces of furniture and appliances upside down and leave a home looking like a tornado has gone through it.

Another thing that feels familiar is how the community responds. How quickly small groups of friends and neighbors and coworkers have mobilized to work together to find ways to meet immediate needs of those whose homes have been flooded. Even some local businesses are stepping up to the plate, offering special discounts on electrical appliances for flood victims. The local government and various groups of people around the state have organized themselves to bring whatever skills and resources they have to aid their neighbors in immediate needs--getting a safe place to stay and to sleep, getting homes cleaned, getting food to eat and necessities of life replaced.

It won't be an easy road for many. The thing about flooding and mud in a humid, tropical climate where mold and mildew grow easily is that it's practically a losing battle to try to clean and dry out these plaster and cement block homes that have been flooded before the naturally hot, moist climate causes unhealthy molds to grow in the walls and floors. My mom is one who has been fighting that battle, cleaning muddy residue off of walls and sanitizing them with a bleach rinse. We hope now for sunny, hot days that will help buildings to dry out, but so far the skies remain mostly overcast.

One thing that's different is my own role this time around. During the tsunami, I was in the homes, carrying garbage out to the dump trucks, elbow-deep in muddy water, trying to rinse the filth of the ocean out of saris. This time, with baby boy on board, it's advisable for me to avoid bacteria-carrying mud, strong fumes of cleaning chemicals, slippery floors, heavy lifting...basically anything and everything that's necessary and normal in flood clean-up. So I've stayed home and done babysitting and switched loads of laundry (from people whose houses had been flooded who at least needed a few day's worth of clean clothing) from the washer to the dryer. Everyone else is out doing the hardcore work, but I'm honest with myself that at this point I'd be more of a liability than a help. Being in this stage of life makes me think even more of the many pregnant women whose own homes were affected, who don't have a safe and clean and dry home to stay behind in while others do the harder work. As is so often the case, it's the most vulnerable in society--elderly folks, widows, single mothers, etc--who have been affected most dramatically by this disaster. I'm so glad that in this community I see bits of brightness, bits of love and light and grace in how so many come together to help whoever they can. But my heart hurts at all the stories of loss and desperation.
AnneMarie said...

Oh my, I had no idea you all were facing this situation! (I don't really keep up with the news at all) I will be praying for all of you.

Chelsea said...

This makes me so sad It's crazy the things that we take for granted on a normal day to day basis. I'm just over here thinking about how stressed I am at work, meanwhile this situation is happening :( Praying.

Kay R. said...

Oh no this really makes me sad! So sorry to hear that you guys were affected too. Please keep you and baby safe and Im wishing the entire island peace as they deal with this.

Unknown said...

The storms this year have really turned so many families' lives upside down! I live next to Rockport, Texas where Harvey made landfall and many of my friends are still living in tent cities because they lost their homes. So glad you are doing fairly well and seem in good spirits!

Laura Darling said...

Oh my, I am so, so sorry to hear about this! How devastating for those who lost so much. I will your area in my prayers as you recover from this. It's simultaneously amazing and sad to me how water can be so, so beautiful and also so, so destructive.

Victoria said...

I will keep everybody in my prayers. 2017 has been such a tragic year :(

Jenny Evans said...

Wow. Flood cleanup is smelly, backbreaking, smelly work. We're all able to help in different ways at different times though, and I'm glad you're figuring out how you can help and stepping up!

Beka @ Sunshine to the Square Inch said...

This makes me so sad. Flooding is hard here but insurance makes it a lot easier and you know they have to pay. But overseas is a different ball game and I feel like people in Asia work so hard for what they have.

What did you all do with your laundry room? Are you getting mold too or is it okay?

Brita Long said...

This is so terrible. It hurts my heart to hear about so much damage and devastation. I'm still worried about Puerto Rico's recovery. Praying for all of you in Malaysia. xoxo