KUALA LUMPUR-Rescue efforts are underway in parts of Malaysia after seasonal floods killed at least four people and displaced more than 40,000. Among the deaths confirmed Sunday by state authorities in Johor was a man who became trapped in a car that was swept away by rising floodwaters. Footage taken by rescue workers and volunteers in towns across the southern state showed groups of people stranded on rooftops as their houses disappeared underwater. Images shared by the National Flood Disaster Agency showed rescuers wading chest-deep in some areas to save people trapped in their homes. One rescue worker was seen carrying a baby in a bucket to safety. Other images showed flooded roads and forests and vehicles submerged in muddy water. Malaysia, like many of its Southeast Asian neighbors, is vulnerable to seasonal floods. Neighboring Singapore has seen heavy torrential rains since February.
Malaysia’s worst floods in decades occurred in 2021, when there were 54 deaths and the army was mobilized. The widespread floods that year hit eight states and strained emergency services across the country, sparking criticism of the government’s response to the disaster.
The country’s annual monsoon season started in November and people have been evacuating their homes since at least December.
Johor, population 4 million, is Malaysia’s second most populous state and is the worst hit by this season’s floods. Tens of thousands of its residents have now moved to relief centers in schools and community halls, officials said.
Experts from the Malaysian Meteorological Department have warned that the wet weather could continue until April.
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim shared an update from Johor on Sunday after visiting survivors and evacuees, saying that floods were a pressing issue for the country and that the government would expedite mitigation projects.
“This matter (of floods) cannot be delayed and should be dealt with more seriously so that it does not happen again,” he said in a tweet.
Members of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA), a youth-led political party with a large presence in Johor, advised residents to accept help from rescue bodies and warned against “waiting too long” to evacuate their homes.
“River water levels are still high and it’s predicted to rain heavily again,” said Amira Aisya Abdul Aziz, the group’s deputy president. “Don’t wait too long if water levels start to rise. Move to safer areas as soon as possible.”
“Remember: Your lives are more valuable than your belongings,” she added.
Amira said the country needed urgently to address its flooding problems, saying it could not afford to go through so many disasters “in such a short period of time.”