Kelantan's Flood From The Heart And Lens Of A Photographer

Last update: 21/01/2015

By Hairul Nizam Baharin

KOTA BAHARU (Bernama) -- Kelantan, a state in Malaysia's east coast, is synonymous with the dikir barat musical performance and the ulek mayang dance. The state also boasts for several enchanting places like Rantau Panjang, Wakaf Che Yeh and Pengkalan Kubor that beckons visitors.

The town of Rantau Panjang in Kelantan close to the Malaysia-Thai border is a well known shopping heaven with lines after lines of shops selling numerous items like textile, handbags, kitchen wares and bric-a-brac.

The state associated with the legend of Cik Siti Wan Kembang is also a haven for foodies. It is the place to savour tantalizing delicacies unique to the state like the nasi kerabu, sup belut, nasi berlauk, kuih akok, bunga tanjung, jala emas and pulut panggang manis.

As for me, a photographer with the Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama), Kelantan has always captivated my heart with its unique charm and its genial people.


However, when I stepped foot in Kota Baharu on Dec 20, 2014 after a 10-hour grueling journey from Kuala Lumpur, my heart sank when I saw the sight that greeted me.

Only a vast body of 'teh tarik' coloured water that covered the landscape was visible. The camera lens that I focused up to the distant horizon also provided the same monotonous view of the deluge.

I was astounded as for once I realised how bad the flood situation was and was concerned over the fate of the affected people.

And throughout the three week stay in the state to cover the floods, where the condition deteriorated on the subsequent days, I saw through my eyes and lens the havoc unleashed by the deluge.

Many of the villages along the road from Kota Baharu to Kuala Krai had disappeared, fully submerged under the flood water.

And moving about in Kelantan then proved to be a challenge as many of the roads were submerged or destroyed and this also hindered flood relief efforts.

The rail bridge in Kemubu had collapsed, so did the bridge connecting Gua Musang and Jeli due to the huge volume of water and strong currents.

"I thought to myself, Oh my God what had happened to Kelantan? Has the state turned into a cluster islands?

I also pondered over the fate of the flood victims who had to leave behind their homes and belongings to seek shelter at safe locations.


The flood this time around is said to be the worst episode since 1967 and for me it provided an unforgettable experience. As for the record, 134,139 people in Kelantan had to take refuge due to the deluge, the highest number of people displaced by the flood in a state.

In the aftermath, the scene of devastation especially around Manek Urai was heart wrenching.

The houses, surau, community halls, grocery stores in Kampung Manik Urai Lama and Kampung Manik Urai Baru in Kuala Krai all appeared to have been washed away by the strong currents along with the trees. Vehicles could be seen piled up one on top of the other.

Whole villages were covered by knee deep mud, apart from the debris from the houses that were reduced to rubble, rubbish, logs and bamboos littered the ground and on the roof of the houses that managed to withstand the flood.

From my lens, the picture of the landscape appeared like the devastation seen in Acheh, Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami.

Looking at the scale of the devastation, I wondered how would these people here start over again after losing their homes, belongings and their income. How are they going to settle with their children's schooling as all the books, uniforms and necessities have been washed away.

The only respite from the sense of hopelessness that loomed over the affected areas is the noise of young children running about happily, oblivious to the sad fate that befell their family.


A gloomy atmosphere prevailed as the affected residents started returning only to see that there is nothing much left of their homes. Many went to salvage whatever was left and move on with life.

The sight of a lone mother carrying astride her toddler while frying 'cekodok' (banana fritter snack) under a shack made up from material salvaged from houses that were destroyed indicated life still goes on despite of the adversity.

I also made my way to the Sekolah Kebangsaan Manek Urai Lama where it was rumoured that the school building had collapsed during the flood.

The school was still intact and it is where 400 people took refuge on the fourth floor after the water rose up to the third floor.


From Manek Urai, I headed to Dabong and Kemubu. The sight of devastation was overwhelming with the situation there could be described as a 'total lost'.

While busy clicking my camera shutter, on the background I heard the clamour of the flood victims who were engrossed in cleaning up their belongings using the water from the river. I saw them washing piles of clothing, pots and pans and other household items.

While I felt poignant, they appeared to have accepted their fate and went ahead with all that they could do to get on with life.

The scene and feelings were the same in Kemubu and Limau Kasturi, with the pitiful sight of a 64 year old single mother clearly at a loss after her house was washed away captured through my lens.

The three-week stay in Kelantan during the floods also provided me a snapshot of the resilience shown by the Kelantanese who have started work to rebuild their lives after the floods.