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BUKIT ANTARABANGSA: Six months on, it's a different kind of 'normal'

The Malay Mail

Residents rally on; occupants of 44 houses still deemed unfit for occupation wait for long haul reparation and journey home....
Sunday, June 7th, 2009 22:09:00

ZONED OFF: A view from Bukit Mewah which received the full brunt of the landslide which began from the slopes of Wangsa 9 (backfround).  Note the buttercups amidst the rubble.

IF you were to look a little beyond the signboard in this picture that Malay Mail cameraman Abdul Razak Ghazali took early on Saturday morning, you might notice the flowering of yellow wild buttercup amidst the rubble, lalang and undergrowth.

Journalists somewhat instinctively pick up little descriptive symbols or signs that may help in telling the story.  Somehow the 'Kawasan Larangan' literal translation of 'Prohibited Territory' comes across as a bit harsh when the intended message probably is 'keep away' or 'no entry'. Also, maybe there could be a little more gentleness and sensitivity especially towards those who have experienced a calamity.

Razak was at Bukit Antarabangsa to revisit the area that six months ago, on 6 December precisely, was a surreal scene of chaos.  A community in a popular suburb of the city being evacuated with the proverbial 'only clothes on their backs'? These kind of incidents usually happened in the east coast or other monsoon flooding prone areas.

But Bukit Antarabangsa had been crippled by a landslide. Earlier that morning - around 3.30am - the disaster had struck, burying 14 homes and five lives in its wake.

The muddy 'moving' earth had cut off the only access road to the other at-risk residential areas in the vicinity, trapping hundreds of residents. The army, fire department, medics and other rescue teams came out in full force; police by noon reported 93 people rescued and more than 2,000 residents evacuated. Helicopters had airlifted 13 people to hospitals, among them two pregnant women, two elderly women with weak hearts, a stroke patient and another needing haemodialysis treatment.


"It was chaotic, like a war zone with uniformed personnel around, confusion of course, and even the oddity of seeing blurry-eyed, sleepy people carrying their pillows and what-nots, passing through our clubhouse," said Syed Azman Albukhary, president of the nearby Impian Selatan Condo residents association. "...but it's like back to normal now." Families from the over-100 units in the three blocks there had then been guided through 'Outward Bound' school-like jungle treks, aided by soldiers and support ropes along slopes, down to safer ground.

Antarbangsa 9

WORK IN PROGRESS: Soil-nailing and micro-pile work being carried out to stabilise the failed slope fringing Wangsa 9.

The Impian Selatan Condo residents were not allowed to live there for about a month. The worst-affected among them were 27 households from Block B1. Occupants returned in late February.

"It's okay now... but it will never be the same, you know," said Syed Azman. "The scars will always remain. How not to.

"Every day we pass the place; now we see the repair works by the Public Works Department going on..."

In February, the Works Ministry had announced that RM70mil had been allocated for stabilisation of the landslide-hit area. Its Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed said the Cabinet had approved the amount, which would be recouped after authorities "identify the parties responsible for the tragedy that claimed five lives on Dec 6."

"It will be a daily on-going thing for some time," said Syed Azman, who recalled being rejuvenated when the residents rallied, "garnered their strength despite the trying period, donated and pooled money among themselves, and went all out to help one another.

"Some of us were lucky enough to have relatives who invited us to stay," he related, and in half-jest added"...when were outstayed our welcome, we went on to stay with others and others.  There were residents not so fortunate who stayed in hotels for about a month and it did come up to quite a bit."

Syed Azman said there were expenses to be met in making the place habitable again - the cleaning up (washing away of mud and cutting of grass), seeing to the reconnection of disrupted electricity (RM5000 - at a discounted rate) and water (RM 3,000, also discounted) because of overdue bills too. "We are grateful to Lembah Jaya MP Datuk Ismail Kijo who had set up a fund for victims, of which the Impian Selatan RA received RM10,000. Gombak MP Azmin Ali donated RM2,500, and to meet other expenses, residents themselves chipped in."


But back to today and Syed Azman said the most uppermost wanting of residents was basically one of restoration of faith. "We need the authorities entrusted with approvals, monitoring  of any development and maintenance in the area to please do their jobs with conviction. Make sure those working on such matters - from developers to those in charge of clean drains are compelled to abide by regulations . Everyone must do their part. There must be a holistic approach to ensure such an incident NEVER ever happens again."

Like the one-off  insurance coverage against landslides that the condominium fortunately had. The association is in the midst of handling the matter (around RM550,000)  "but after this has happened, no one will grant insurance coverage on this again."

Banks have also stopped giving out loans against property in the area immediately after the landslide occurred. There are potential buyers who lost their deposits despite still being interested in purchasing the property.

One naturally distressed man has been scouting for any form of redress.  His RM100,000 deposit, made just before the landslide occurred,  for a semi-detached property near the area had been forfeited.

Antarbangs 8

STEEP: Slope reinforcement has almost reached the front gates of homes at Wangsa 9.

"The banks rejected his loan application, he can't get back his hard-earned money... this is not right," said very active resident committee member Yen Hee of Jalan Wangsa 9, who has steadfastly taken on liaising constantly with the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council, JKR and other authorities.

"He should not be made a victim too," said Yen Hee, who bravely soldiers on with doing what she has to and more.  Her home is among the 23 households along Jalan Wangsa 9 that occupants can't return to. There are with eight more houses in Taman Bukit Jaya and another 11 in Bukit Mewah, the area that the landslide engulfed,  which are still under vacate orders.

So since 6 Dec, occupants of these 44 residences have had to live elsewhere. When will they be able to go home? While the Works Ministry in February had said "within six months" upon completion of soil stabilisation in the immediate landslide hit area, Yen Hee herself is unsure "but hopefully, possibly by year-end, slightly more?"

For some three weeks now, the physically seen reparation works in the area can be seen taking shape.

Work at the rest of the affected area is scheduled to be completed within two years, the Works Ministry had said.

"The JKR-supervised work, like soil stabilising and slope reinforcement, is progressing and we are working on communicating better. However, some of our houses have cracks appearing, which is very worrisome. The contractors have promised to look  into repairing that," related Yen Hee, who has seen about 10 workers-on-the-job whenever she visits.

"But, we are also very worried over the security. There had been promises from the police that there would be guards to prevent any thefts or break-ins, which had occurred. As a 'desperate' measure, we have paid a gardener to temporarily be on the lookout for us but how much can one person do... how long must this go on. "

(It is not without a little "can you believe it" that when asked, she says, "yes," she knew about a police raid on one of the houses behind the affected row some three weeks ago, where the "biggest drugs haul in Selangor" occurred. The suspects had led police to their "storage" home there.)

Yen Hee makes it a point to go to the site two to three times a week and definitely her vacated house at least once on these visits  for a quick check, cleaning of whatever she can and to look out for neighbours some of whom have had damage to their premises by water entering "from we don't know how or when... or from where". Parquet flooring ruined, cupboards damaged.


Those who have had to vacate their homes receive a RM1,000 rental subsidy every month from the State Government through the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ). Yee Hee liaises on this so that everyone gets their monthly cheques.

Anatrabangsa 12

NO ROAD LEFT: Owners of these vacated homes gain entrance from the backway wheneever they come around to do their checks.

They, however, would rather go home.

"We often can't help but think about the little, little things - the equipment and other stuff, like my fridge; will it still be useable after all this time..." said Yen Hee, who tries very hard to keep everyone updated on the blogsite (  she specially created immediately after the landslide occurred. "I don't have a landline where I am staying now in Taman TAR, and whenever I can, 'borrow' someone's wireless connection..."

What is clear is the resilience of the people who have had little choice but to handle the situation as best as they can.

"When this happened, people had brushed this off as a 'rich' man's area, and that we would be okay," related Syed Azman, who was amused and slightly indignant that sermons he heard were "hurtful attributing the incident as a punishment from God as we were 'sinners'.

"All I can say is that this was no fault of ours. We welcomed any help in our time of need especially for those who are not financially secure, and if none was forthcoming, we just did things ourselves. There is no way we would justify our suffering to get money."

Man's fault or God's wrath, what is real is that the residents are intent on the blossoming of the spirit of "love thy neighbour", and on rebuilding their homes and lives.


Antarabangsa 11

OVERALL VIEW: From Jalan Wangsa 9, this is the path the landslide took to where the bungalows once stood, marked by the hanging bedsheet-like blue plastic tarpaulins. In the background is the Impian Selatan Condominium.


Anatrabangsa 10

CORDONED OFF: The metal fencing at the entrance to Wangsa 9 erected by contractors Protasco Bhd's HCM Engineering Sdn Bhd. The other three simultaneously doing stabilisation and restoration works are MTD Capital Bhd, Jamil Ghani Construction Sdn Bhd and Target Resources Sdn Bhd.

Antarabangsa 2

WHERE THE HOUSES WERE BURIED: This is the entrance to the Bukit Mewah 'ground zero' site where levelling and soil stabilising works are being done.



Antarabangsa 6

GREAT WALL UNDER BLUE SKIES: These are the 12 odd-number addressed homes, all vacated, in Wangsa 9, stretching from No.1 on the right up to No. 25 along Jalan Wangsa 9. The unpopular 'bad luck' number 13 was purposely skipped.

Anatrabangsa 4

BUILDING UP: Imagine terms like 'soil-nailing' and 'micro-pile'  being carried out to in the minutest of detail to reinforce the slope fringing Wangsa 9.


Antarabangsa 7

SO CLOSE TO HOME: It is almost unimaginable to have such massive consruction work just at the fringe of one's driveway.













Antarabangsa 1

PASSING BY: RM70 million is being spent on rehabilition work being carried out at the landslide affected areas and is targetted for completion by end August.



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