When it comes to coordinating disaster relief efforts, timing is of great importance

When it comes to coordinating disaster relief efforts, timing is of great importance

We had unloaded the last bag of foodstuff - actually it was just three litres of water and 12 packets of Ah Seng Penang white curry instant noodles - at an orang asli settlement in Kampung Paya Pelong, Temerloh. I chatted with the two elderly Chinese men who brought me there.

It was heartwarming listening to how much they - Chan Kok Foo and Ng Tge Kiong - cared for the orang asli, even though they themselves were victims of the floods.

Ng said in Mandarin: "We were hungry and ate what we could to fill our stomachs. They (the orang asli) are also victims and I am sure they are hungry too. But no one could get to them because they are so far in the interior."

As we were talking, another man - I believe his name was Razali Muja - joined the conversation and started ranting about the night the waters came.

He said: "Hari 26 itu air naik (on the 26th the water rose)." He recounted that the water rose so fast that while he was able to get his family to safer ground, he could not save his belongings. Talking about it now gave him a lump in his throat.

I couldn't help thinking about what I was doing on Dec 26. I was busy making a salad with leftover turkey while this man was trying to save his wife and children. This time, the lump was in my throat.

To Razali, some people were lucky that they could still salvage stuff, even damaged items, to clean up and use.

"I have nothing," he said. "By the time I got back, my whole house was submerged and everything was washed away."

The stench of the mud and damp, rotten garbage was unbearable. But those who live here have no choice. Many women just ignored the stench as they tried to clean their soiled and broken furniture and equipment.

Those who did not have much to clean or salvage sat by the roadside or at the Dewan Orang Ramai to wait for donations.

When the vehicles came, a mother with young children rushed out in anticipation of milk, blankets and rice. No one gave her any. There were only bottles of water, instant noodles and biscuits.

The victims had already gotten piped water supply. And how much instant noodles can anyone eat in a day? The children, ever optimistic and still dressed in mudstained clothes, waited to see if we had brought anything different.

Chan and Ng kept reminding me that we should give equally to all the families to avoid fights as the people were desperate.

Razali had told us some villa­gers, who were assigned to repack the goods, would conveniently push some under the chair to hide for themselves. They were that desperate.

"A hungry crowd is an angry crowd," Chan warned.

At the outskirts of this settlement were newly-constructed bungalows that were still stained by mud more than 2m high. Chan didn't sound too worried about the Chinese residents in nearby Kerdau town which, until three days ago, was only accessible by train.

"The Chinese just think the flood is a chance to have a new coat of paint for the house and new furniture for the new year," he joked.

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