Commentary Local

Social media’s role in Penang floods

Dave PenangFlood

TheMole
Written by TheMole

By Dave Avran

November 15,  2017

THE recent Penang floods have been described as unprecedented, triggered by the heaviest rainfall in the state’s history.

The death toll has been confirmed to be at least seven so far. Many Penang residents have also been uprooted from their homes and are currently seeking shelter in relief centres.

As the flash floods struck Penang, Twitter users recorded their fears over the latest storm that brought heavy rain and fierce winds, and their worries over family and friends affected.

Trending hashtags led by #PrayForPenang, inundated social media with prayers for the island state that has been hit with a record 315mm rainfall overnight on Nov 4. Other users provided links to emergency services updates and also offered to start blood donation drives.

A user with the twitter handle “Wild flower empress” wrote: “Guys I’m trying to remain calm but I’m actually scared of this heavy rain super windy weather. Penang u ok or not”.

Videos of a Penang under water made the rounds on whatsapp, facebook and youtube.

Heavy rain and typhoon-like winds began at 2pm on Saturday, Nov 4, causing floods after five hours of downpour.

The rain continued overnight, leading Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to call Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at 3.30 am to desperately request help from the army.

Army personnel were mobilised on Sunday to assist with evacuations and cleaning up.

On Thursday, state executive councillor Chow Kon Yeow told the state legislative assembly that Penang had been hit by a total of 119 flash flood incidents between 2013 and last month.

Each year since 2013 has seen roughly 20 to 30 flash flood Incidents, with the highest at 30 in 2016.

This year, there have been 21 incidents as at October 15. In mid-September, Penang received 270mm of rainfall, a record at the time, causing widespread flash floods on the island and mainland.

Penang was placed on a red storm alert on  Nov 4 by the Meteorological Department, and was downgraded to orange the next day but forecast that rain and strong winds would continue. Orange means that people in affected areas should prepare for anticipated conditions.

Twitter user Sekuntum Sal tweeted: “Penang is red… wind howling like wolves” while another user, The Khabir wrote: “Flooding everywhere in Penang and the wind is just insane”.

“Penang was so heartbroken she cried herself to sleep last night. She got so drunk she destroyed everything too,” wrote another Twitter user, Clarissa.

To his credit, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak quickly stated that the federal government would assist any state affected by disasters such as floods based on humanitarian grounds and responsibility.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said that the flood issue should not be politicised by any parties because it was the responsibility of the government to channel aid.

It is good that both sides of the divide put aside politics and worked to assist the affected rakyat.

Unfortunately, this disaster could potentially be a sign of things to come, with climate change becoming a hot topic again since the United States was battered by a series of hurricanes earlier this year, such as hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

It is reported that an Asian Development Bank study revealed that Southeast Asia will be hit particularly hard by climate change.

While recovery and relief efforts are still ongoing in Penang, it will be wise for Malaysia to look further ahead and start planning for disaster risk mitigation and awareness in the future.

Social media channels will continue to be the preferred medium for people to broadcast information, share their concerns and access emergency services in such disasters.  

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