Malaysian floods: Desperate and living on knife's edge

A girl plays on a flooded street on the outskirts of Kota Bharu in Kelantan December 29, 2014.

KOTA BARU - This was among the many bizarre situations experienced by the army officers aiding the victims, according to Defence Ministry public relations officer Mejar Khairuddin Ismail.

He said this illustrated the extent of desperation of the people under such extraordinary hardship.

"This was one of the worst things that happened since we began operations last Dec 25," said Mejar Khairuddin, who added that the incident took place in an non-gazetted evacuation centre in Pasir Mas.

"The people had not expected such high water levels there, but as they kept rising, more than 8,000 people were relocated to that evacuation centre.

"Since it was not gazetted, we did not have an estimate for the number of people there, so the amount of food we brought could barely sustain 10 per cent of the people there.

"A few days later, when my officers went to the ground with a seven-tonne lorry, one of them was threatened with a parang to his neck," said Mejar Khairuddin, who added that the officers reacted calmly to defuse the situation as they understood the kind of stress the victims were undergoing.

"Another interesting incident was when an extremely rich victim asked to rent a military helicopter.

"He wanted us to fly him to a relative's home as he did not want to stay in the evacuation centre, and was most disappointed when we turned him down," said the major.

On the more unsavoury side, Mejar Khairuddin said he was disappointed over instances when personal greed overtook compassion such as when some people took the bulk of the relief supplies for themselves. It later led to fights among villagers, he said.

"I was born in Kelantan and it was sad to see a lot of people put their own needs ahead of others.

"Sometimes, when we give them food, we hear victims saying things like 'but my son does not eat this, do you have something else?'

"All in all, it was an experience that has taught us how to handle such situations in future," Mejar Khairuddin said.