Shop owners struggling to get back in business

Shop owners struggling to get back in business

As residents of Kuala Krai in central Kelantan take stock of the damage wrought by the floods, small businesses are also struggling to get back on their feet.

Relief efforts are focused largely on ensuring that villagers get adequate food and water supplies, and on finding temporary housing for those affected, so shop owners say they must fend for themselves.

When The Sunday Times visited the town on New Year's Day, nine in 10 shops were still closed, their shutters caked in mud, in some cases all the way up to the signage at the top.

Mr Foo Chik Thai, 67, was sitting on a stool in front of his vehicle repair shop, Jackson Auto Electric. He had RM80,000 (S$30,200) in vehicle parts stored inside but "they're worthless now", he said, even as his daughter comforted him.

Along Jalan Ah Sang, a street wedged between two rows of shophouses, ruined items discarded by merchants were piled into small brown mounds outside.

Some residents picked at the heaps, looking for anything they could salvage.

Mr Gan Siew Choy, 41, who runs industrial equipment shop Eng Chong with his 47-year-old brother Siew Koh, was luckier.

Their shop had also been submerged, but their goods - water pumps, electric generators and leaf blowers - were still in demand even after having been exposed to the elements, snapped up by residents eager to begin the clean-up.

Even so, they were selling the tools at a loss. A drill set usually priced at RM180 went for just RM80.

"We can't just throw them away. If we can get back nearly the cost, we let them go," said Mr Gan. "Of course, people must do their own repairs."

Kuala Krai MP Mohd Hatta Ramli, from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which runs the state, told The Sunday Times that businesses had been devastated because no one had expected flooding on this scale.

"Flooding is quite common here, but this is the first time it's been so bad," he said. "They've lost everything, and they cannot do any business at the moment. It will be at least a month or two before they can start again, so it's a big loss for them."

He and his grassroots leaders are working to distribute food, water and baby napkins to rural areas. Democratic Action Party (DAP) chief Lim Kit Siang was with him on one of these trips when we visited.

Prime Minister Najib Razak visited the state last Tuesday to offer relief and to assess the impact of the floods, but Mr Lim said he should have declared a state of emergency so that resources could be mobilised more effectively to help victims.

Datuk Sri Najib announced RM500 million in aid for residents whose homes and vehicles had been damaged by the floods.

Back in the state capital of Kota Baru, traders had slashed prices on waterlogged goods, including household appliances and food items - a packet of biscuits was going for RM1 instead of the usual RM3. With their shops urgently in need of repair, merchants were eager to unload as much as they could.

Also badly affected were those who manage rubber and oil palm smallholdings as many plantations had been flooded.

The Star reported that in Kelantan alone, there were 150,000 farmers and livestock breeders whose padi fields, vegetable plots, farm animals and fish ponds had been wiped out.

This article was first published on Jan 4, 2015.
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