Rescuers struggle to reach flood victims in Malaysia as anger mounts

Menteri Besar of Perak Datuk Seri Dr. Zambry Abd Kadir (fourth from right) reviewing the situation in Kampung Labit.

PENGKALAN CHEPA, Malaysia - Rescuers struggled Saturday to get help to the tens of thousands of people affected by Malaysia's worst flooding in decades as angry victims accused the government of being slow in its response.

Malaysians have vented their anger at Prime Minister Najib Razak after photos went viral on social media showing him playing golf with US President Barack Obama during the storms.

The number of people forced to flee their homes climbed past 120,000 with weather forecasters warning of no respite for the northeastern states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang.

From the air, parts of Kota Bharu, the state capital of badly-affected Kelantan, resembled a vast, muddy lake, with row after row of rooftops peeking out of the murky waters.

Tempers were frayed among people sheltering at a crowded relief centre just outside Kota Bharu, with fears the situation would worsen as it continued to rain in surrounding areas.

"I am angry with them (the government). We don't care about their politics. We just want the government to do what they should do and help us," 23-year-old Farhana Suhada, who works for a courier service, told AFP.

Holding on tightly to her six-month-old baby, she said: "For breakfast I had three biscuits and tea. There's not enough water and no food at all for my baby. I had to buy my own milk." Farhana was forced to abandon her home four days ago after flood waters rose quickly almost to neck level.

"I have lost everything, including huge damage to my house and my car and motorcycle," said Suhada, who was among 200 people seeking refuge in a two-storey school.

The under-fire Najib, meanwhile, arrived in Kelantan to lead the national flood response after cutting short his vacation in Hawaii and was expected to meet flood victims.

The massive flooding, caused by torrential northeast monsoon rains, has so far left five people dead.

The region is regularly hit by flooding during the annual monsoon, but this year's rains have been unusually bad.

Challenging situation

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin conceded that rescuers were struggling with power outages and roads being washed away by the floods.

"I admit the situation is challenging to the rescue workers and we are trying our best to make sure that the food arrives to the victims depending on the flood situation," he was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper.

Military helicopters and trucks were seen in the Kota Bharu area, which is near the border with southern Thailand, but rescue efforts were being hampered by fast rising waters and strong currents while roads to hard-hit areas were impassable.

"The severity and scale of the floods had taken the authorities completely by surprise as it was worse than anticipated, overwhelming all disaster management plans and preparations," Lim Kit Siang, veteran opposition MP with the Democratic Action Party said in a statement Saturday.

Kelantan, one of the worst-affected areas, is led by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and is one of the poorest states in the country.

At one relief centre, flood victims were seen lying on the ground while children ran around.

The Universiti Sains Malaysia hospital, located in Kota Bharu, was busy handling flood victims flown in from nearby areas - including a pregnant woman from Pasir Mas district where strong winds and currents have made rescue operations difficult.

"It's been three days, but the currents are still very strong and the bad weather conditions are making it difficult for everyone," a rescue worker told AFP on condition of anonymity.