(Mis)adventures in Johor (The Star/Comment, 15 Jan 07)
(Mis)adventures in Johor
By MEERA VIJAYAN
Trapped for almost three days after narrowly avoiding dangers.
I USED to be cynical hearing stories of people hoarding supplies to get through difficult times.
But after spending close to three days stranded in Bandar Tenggara, one of the worst hit flood areas in Johor, I now understand how easy it is for even the sanest of people to turn into a panic stricken “Hoardzilla.”
Many a time, I fought the urge to grab bottles of mineral water from shops, especially after water supply was disrupted when the floodwaters washed away part of a road linking Bandar Tenggara with Kluang.
Our (mis)adventures began when photographer Kenneth Wong and I were sent to Kota Tinggi on Friday to see how the local folks were coping with the floods.
After sending our stories, we quickly drove back along Jalan Kota Tinggi as water levels rose rapidly. But our journey came to a halt after the Kulai junction; a major landslide had completely blocked the way.
It would take at least five to six hours to clear the debris, so we decided to use the route we came – cutting across Kluang before turning around to Johor Baru via the North- South Expressway. No other alternative roads were available as even Sg Sayong in Kulai had overflowed.
After driving more than 100km along the pothole-riddled trunk road in heavy rain and crossing into the Kluang border, we found ourselves stuck again. Floodwaters at Felda Ulu Penggeli had risen dangerously.
By then, it was impossible to turn back to Kota Tinggi as another landslide had cut off access in Lenggiu, the road we had passed just a while ago. We were trapped!
Feeling exhausted and dejected, we drove back to the petrol station at Bandar Tenggara to decide our next course of action. Upon reaching at nearly 11pm, we were told there was no hotel in the area.
Just then, a man in a Rela jacket told us of a Kejora (Kemajuan Johor Tenggara) rest house. He called the caretaker and confirmed it was available and took us there personally. I could have cried with gratitude as otherwise, we would have had to camp it out in my little Kelisa.
The next morning, most of Bandar Tenggara woke up to dry taps; the water pipes were broken when the floods washed away some 20m of road at Felda Ulu Penggeli along Jalan Kota Tinggi-Kluang.
After getting necessities such as soap, toothpaste and bottles of mineral water, we hurried off to check the road that had been swept away. Hundreds of people were already gathered there, watching the raging river that swept through what used to be a road.
After a few quick interviews, we headed back only to notice the long queues outside petrol stations. Panic hoarding of petrol had begun, with many motorists driving over from Kota Tinggi as petrol stations there were already covered in water. We joined in the line and I filled my tank to the brim.
We quickly sent our stories over from the Kejora office and by the end of the second day, I had traded my handbag for a waist pouch, shoes for slippers and given up my eyeliner and lipstick. Kenneth was longing to go home to be with his family for his birthday today.
Family members and concerned friends called constantly to inquire about our well-being, one even tried to lighten the mood by joking that poor Bigfoot might have drowned in the floods.
By day three, the flood situation worsened dramatically all over the state. The Star's other photographer in Kota Tinggi had short-circuited his camera in the floodwaters and we had to get back to the office, even if it meant returning by boat.
I was dismayed at the thought of leaving my car behind but we quickly headed back to the Kejora office to settle our bills. Luck was on our side as the office arranged the transport for us.
We were driven in a van to the spot where the road had been swept away. As the raging “river” had subsided, we scrambled through mud and water to the other side. Waiting there was a car that took us to Kluang so we could take a bus or a taxi back to Johor Baru.
Upon reaching the bus station, greedy taxi drivers attempted to fleece us by demanding RM100 for a trip back. Disgusted, we bought two bus tickets for RM7.50 each instead and got back to Johor Baru within 90 minutes.
Looking back, I realise just how fortunate we had been. Many things could have gone wrong in the past three days, but we seemed to have a guardian angel guiding us along the way. An amazing sense of timing had allowed us to narrowly escape landslides, swept-away roads and dangerous floods.
It may have been an ordeal but I am not going to moan one bit. We have been extremely lucky compared to some 100,000 people in my state who have lost almost all their belongings.
I will be thinking about them and counting my blessings as I cuddle up with my pillows in my cosy bed. And Ken, I hope you enjoy your Korean dinner with your family tonight. Happy Birthday!