KOTA KINABALU - A two-year-old girl drowned in her mother's arms when a rescue boat tipped over during an evacuation from their flooded village.
Maisarah Bihar died when several passengers abruptly stood up in panic when the Fire and Rescue Department boat encountered strong currents.
Their village is in the interior Keningau district, which was hit by floods. Forty schools have been closed.
Department director Nordin Pauzi said Maisarah was among nine villagers and three firemen in the boat when tragedy struck in Kampung Mempikit at about 10.30am on Thursday.
He said the boat was approaching the area where the villagers were supposed to be sent to.
"They ignored the firemen's advice to remain calm. Instead, they stood up, causing the boat to become unstable. All on board were wearing life vests," Nordin said.
He said firemen managed to pull out nine villagers from the river, including Maisarah.
"However, the little girl had swallowed too much water by then," Nordin said.
He said the firemen complied with all procedures but they had to deal with the sudden force of the water current.
Apart from Keningau, heavy rains over the past several days have caused flooding in Beaufort, Tenom, Nabawan and Sandakan districts.
Sabah Education Department director Datuk Jame Alip said about 5,000 students had to skip classes on Thursday due to the floods.