The Storm that Shook Penang

loading Aftermath of the flood at Taman Seri Rambai.

The state suffered a terrible natural disaster on November 4, 2017. But Penang bounced back very quickly. How it recovered will be remembered as a time when Malaysians came together, giving help willingly and overwhelmingly.

Every time it rains now, Penangites get skittish – and for good reason. It has been five months since the freak storm hit the state. The storm of November 4, 2017 left a trail of destruction, with winds lashing at up to 40mph, uprooting trees and roofs. Heck, a Penang ferry was even plucked from the sea. It was all said to be a side effect of Typhoon Damrey, which pummelled nearby Vietnam, although meteorology enthusiasts have since classified the phenomenon as a tropical disturbance.1

The water level was very slow in subsiding; seven people lost their lives that night. And folks at that time were still reeling from the floods that took place on September 5, just two months earlier.

The storm took everyone by surprise. There was no warning from the Malaysian Meteorological Department – not till 9.30pm that evening, when the storm was already raging. All anyone could do was pray, and prepare for the worst.

But quick action from the state government, which mobilised its assets to carry out rescue work at areas that were badly hit, including evacuating victims to relief centres, was certainly a lifeline. And as the waters subsided, the gargantuan task of cleaning up began. There was also the risk of sickness spreading, which is always a danger in such disasters.

The state government announced the RM100mil “Penang Bangkit” programme, or Penang Bounce Back, on November 9, whose aims were cleaning up, repairing damaged properties and assets, and replacing that which cannot be repaired. The initiative’s Volunteers’ Weekend was declared for November 11 and 12.

Penangites are a resilient people – and a helpful lot, it would seem. The Volunteers’ Weekend eventually saw a staggering 10,000 volunteers – including many from other states – and staff from the local councils, helping to clean up the debris. A total of 9,389 tonnes of garbage was cleared. Within eight days, 963 of affected areas on the island and 703 of affected areas on the mainland were cleaned, in what would have taken months under normal circumstances.

A dynamic public-private partnership had the state taking the lead in offering a post-disaster aid package, which included a one-off RM700 payment for affected households and discounts on water bills and property assessment fees. This encouraged the private sector to pull their weight, too – electrical and furniture stores, and car workshops offered discounts, while medical practitioners came forward with free treatment for the flood victims.

What is sorely absent is federal aid. At the time of writing, RM250 had been promised to the affected households (22,534 according to federal count, as opposed to the state’s tally of 52,353) in the middle of March, but this payment has not yet been made. This is in contrast to the state government’s RM700 flood aid to the victims, amounting to RM36.6mil.

When this federal aid, which is estimated to amount to RM5.6mil, will be doled out is anyone’s guess.

In times of need, they were there, giving hope and lending a hand. This is a documentation of what happened on the night of November 4, and the days that followed, in the eyes of those who were in the thick of things.

These are their stories.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng

I left at around 9pm to check on the situation around the state. By the time I reached one of the relief centres, the storm was in full force. The winds were at around 40mph. I had never seen winds like that before in Malaysia – it was ferocious. I was completely overawed by its force and magnitude.

With that type of rain and wind, there was no way that Penang wouldn’t have flooded. No matter what system you had at that time, it would not have helped. It was a question of how to mitigate it.

When you face any national disaster, you are always helpless for the first few hours. Then, slowly, you get back on top of things, and the real rescue, rehabilitation and restoration work begins.

I had no choice but to call up our deputy prime minister (who is also the home affairs minister) at 3.30am – we were completely at the end of our tethers. We had no other recourse; we had mobilised everything, thrown everything into the field to try and help the people. The police were helpless, and so were the defence units, fire department… We needed the army to come in.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng knee-deep in floodwater.

Lim visiting a flood relief centre.

I am willing to put aside everything, with all humility. If I need help, I will ask for help – not for myself, but for the people. If you think that it is a sign of weakness, so be it. If you want to attack me for it, go ahead, because I would do it again. I have no regrets, because I think that helped to save some people, and at the same time send aid along the way. The army did come in, and they helped.

There must also be a plan. Ours was to send our assets and people to the hotspots which we knew would be the first hit whenever there is a major storm. It has so far worked; we deal with flash floods here and there and it has shown itself to be effective.

And when you see a storm of this scale, you have to react quickly. But how can you when there was no early warning? I have not forgiven the Malaysian Meteorological Department – they only gave the final warning at 9.30pm when the storm was already raging. How could we send our assets to the badly hit areas when they could not access them? (Uprooted trees, especially, blocked the roads, preventing rescue workers from getting through.) What were they doing? There must be early warning so that we can at least put our management plan into action. Seven people lost their lives that night.

But our management plan still worked, even during the aftermath. You saw us cleaning up quickly, sending in assets where they were needed, getting help from all over Malaysia, renting lorries… It’s all about the coordination, getting the agencies to work together – I think that’s very critical.

I was told that during that night, because everything had broken down (even the electricity supply at the relief centre where I was at was cut off), my Facebook live-stream and live feed were the only sources of information for many of the flood victims – they were actually relying on those to see the extent of the storm and how they could help those caught in the terrible floods. In the future, the state’s disaster alert portal, “Penang Alert”, gives the people a portal they can revert to when everything else has failed.

(The state government launched Penang Portal [] on March 7, which contains information on river levels, total rainfall, floods, tsunami, landslides, road closures, storms and etc. gathered through collaboration with various departments such as the state secretariat, district offices, drainage and irrigation department, public works department, welfare department and the local councils.)

What we are proud of is that we bounced back very quickly, in a matter of 10 days. The Penang Hill funicular train service was able to operate again in less than two months. (Train services were suspended due to damage from the storm.) I think that is a remarkable achievement in itself. That is the resiliency and strength of the people of Penang – the determination to pick themselves up after they were felled by this unexpected blow.

Everybody pitched in – Malay, Chinese, Indian… There was no colour bar. This is what makes Penang great and special. We should be very proud of Penang and what we have done – it gives hope to Malaysians all over the country that this can be representative of what Malaysia really is.

(Through the Penang Bangkit, or Penang Bounce Back programme), we gave out aid of RM700 to the flood victims – the largest amount that we have given out. RM36.6mil was spent for over 52,000 people.

The federal government did not come up with any money. We have been pressing, and finally they came up with only RM250 per victim, when they had promised RM500 earlier. Why has that amount shrunk? Why is it that other states receive RM500, but over here, we only get RM250? The total aid of RM5.6mil from the federal government is still not adequate. I think we deserve more – double of that, RM11.2mil. I’m not asking for RM700, but RM500. After all, our losses were so extensive. Are we not Malaysians? Don’t we pay taxes too? Around RM7bil a year, as a matter of fact! Why is it that Penang pumps in more taxes than others but we get less help? It’s just discriminating and unfair. I’m very disappointed.

Mattresses were among the relief materials distributed to the flood victims.

On the flipside, the only way that we could have picked ourselves up was if we could work together. Everybody pitched in – Malay, Chinese, Indian… There was no colour bar. This is what makes Penang great and special. We should be very proud of Penang and what we have done – it gives hope to Malaysians all over the country that this can be representative of what Malaysia really is. We should hold on to that. There were so many heart-wrenching things I saw – the damage in the houses, people sheltering from the storm… But at the end of the day, I saw hope – how people got together, worked together and put their hearts together. It gave me strength to go on.

I hardly slept during those days. In fact, the night of the 4th, I did not sleep at all. I just kept on going and going, trying to offer hope wherever possible at the flood relief centres. I always came back more energised, even though I was very tired, because I saw that the people believed that they could bounce back, and believed that the state government could lead them back. That touched me.

We wanted to send out a strong message, and I think we succeeded in that: while we cannot prevent natural disasters, when they strike, the state government will not hide. We will not run. We will be right there with you, shoulder to shoulder, to face and solve the problem together.

Jagdeep Singh Deo
State assemblyman for Dato Keramat

The rain started after my lunch, at around 4-5pm. At that time, the Jalan P. Ramlee area had already begun to flood. By 9pm, the storm had hit. The rain only stopped the next day, at around noon. By then, the entire place was inundated.

In 15 hours, from 6pm on November 4 till the next day, we were lashed with 372mm of rain – something that happens over three to four months. We had never seen anything so devastating.

Everyone knows that Dato Keramat is the main flood-prone area – even when there’s a little bit of rain, it would surely flood over there. I don’t like to say that I’m used to it, but the fact is, we have it every year – some kind of flash flood – and we know how to approach it. Unfortunately, that’s the reality. We know what to mobilise quickly, who, and where; we know the major problem areas. Of course, this time, places that never got flooded were flooded.

As you know, the very unfortunate thing about November 4 and 5 was that in my area, there were several deaths – four, to be exact. This has never happened in my 10 years as state assemblyman for Dato Keramat.

Now, floods in my area come as fast as they go. I think the longest we waited for the water to subside was on September 15, and even then it took only 4-5 hours. This time, the water only subsided after two days.

On November 5, we had to wait, first of all, for the water to go down. Before that, we had gone into several areas where there were old folks’ homes to evacuate them.

Jagdeep Singh Deo helping to evacuate an affected senior citizen.

The main thing was to get people out. We went in, we tried to assist. I would like to put on record my sincere appreciation to the civil defence department, the police, the fire department and all other agencies that came in with their boats, as well as my utmost thanks to members of the general public who came forward. I saw many volunteer firemen from all over the island who came to Dato Keramat because it was the worst hit. They were assisting to manage traffic because everything was chaos, complete chaos.

The next step was to temporarily relocate the flood victims. Some schools, like Heng Ee High School in my area, helped, using their hall on the fourth floor. The Buddhist Tzu Chi Merit Society came and helped us at Heng Ee on the relocation until we subsequently found a longer term place.

After the water subsided came the cleaning up. We got the council to come in, but this time the devastation was huge – trees were uprooted, houses were left roofless and there was an unimaginable level of mud. If we were under normal circumstances and using our normal machinery for the clean-up, the process would’ve taken at least one to one and a half months.

But because everybody came together, we cleared everything up in 10 days, throughout the island. This is the resolve of Penangites.

The main cause of floods in my area, Dato Keramat, is the biggest river that runs through the island – Sungai Pinang. And the main area that it runs through in George Town is Dato Keramat. That’s why we have to deal with Sungai Pinang.

The Sungai Pinang flood mitigation programme (at the federal level) has been there since the last century – the 1990s! They (the federal government) started the first phase in 1997 and it ended in 1999. The widening of the river mouth was the first part of the Sungai Pinang flood mitigation programme. There are several parts thereafter – and these are the most important because they affect the parts of the river going into the city.

When I was elected in 2008, within that year itself, there were floods already. I held an immediate meeting to check on the status of the flood mitigation programme. When I asked about the next phase, I was told that it all came to a halt because of the sensitive issue of relocating people who were living by the riverbank – you have to relocate them first before you can widen the riverbank.

After the water subsided came the cleaning up. We got the council to come in, but this time the devastation was huge – trees were uprooted, houses were left roofless and there was an unimaginable level of mud.

It was a task that was put on our shoulders by the federal government. They said that because it was state land, we had to handle it, and then only they’d come in. So we did it. In 2008 we formed a sub-committee and started relocating the squatters, giving them priority to purchase low cost and low-medium cost units, and removing all the structures by the riverbank. We completed that in 2015.

While we were doing that, I wanted to know what the budget for the project was, because it’s a huge project. Did you know that in Malaysia, there are 23 flood mitigation projects that have stalled, and the biggest one is Sungai Pinang?

We were told that the entire budget would be RM600mil. (Originally, it was RM150mil. It was raised to RM300mil for the actual physical widening and deepening works, and with another additional RM300mil for the rehabilitation of the water.) I wanted to know when I was going to get the money – I didn’t want to finish my squatter relocation and then have to wait another five to six years for the project to start.

Finally, in December 2016, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, announced that he was going to give RM150mil to Penang for the Sungai Pinang flood mitigation programme to be continued. Unfortunately, in 2017, after his announcement, only RM1mil came – and that RM1mil was for consultancy work to relook the realignment of the river, etc. I’m told that that has finally been completed now, and that they are looking at appointing a contractor.

While we have short and medium-term programmes for flood mitigation (at the state level), at the end of the day, if you do not solve the actual Sungai Pinang problem, whatever short and medium-term programmes you have will not reduce the flood. If they had continued after 1999 with the relocation and the balance of the programme, the September and November floods might not have been so bad. I’ve done my part – I relocated 232 people and took 101 structures out – not an easy job. I had to persuade people and tell them that it was for the greater good.

In my constituency, we have conducted RM1.46mil worth of short-term projects – 32 of them altogether. But that’s about as much as we can do. That’s why when we have a project like the Sungai Pinang flood mitigation programme, which is RM600mil for one project, we cannot bear the cost. That is where the federal government has to come in.

In the future, I think we must be more prepared. We were very disappointed with the Meteorological Department’s (late) warning – they only gave us the red alert at 9.30pm. At 9.30pm, the storm had already begun! You must tell us earlier so that we can get people out – maybe deaths could have been avoided.

The main cause of floods in the Dato Keramat area is the biggest river that runs through the island, Sungai Pinang, pictured here overflowing its banks.

I think that is a way forward and that is why on March 7, we launched the “Penang Alert” portal. It is a warning portal that will also track floods, heavy rains and etc. We hope that things like this can give fair warning because we need to always plan. The weather has changed, and we have to be ready.

Finally, the Penang state government undertook the Penang Bangkit programme which, apart from cleaning up and rehabilitation works after the devastation, also made a one-off financial assistance payment to those affected – namely RM400 to 12,559 affected victims of the September incident, and RM700 to 51,569 affected victims of the November incident; a total of RM41,121,900 was paid out. For the Dato Keramat area alone, there were 1,331 affected victims in September, and 3,351 affected victims in November.

The question is: why has there been such a delay by the federal government in their financial assistance, available under the federal disaster fund and traditionally used for flood victims in the East Coast, where each victim stood to receive RM500 each? Only very recently, on March 12, did the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, announce that some 22,534 affected Penangites would receive a payment of RM250 per person from this federal fund in the middle of March.

But why RM250 when the fund stipulates that those affected are entitled to RM500? Further, why only 22,534 victims, as our figures show much more being affected? As far as I’m concerned, at Dato Keramat, I have not yet received a call from any one person who said that they were going to receive this payment.

Apart from this perennial problem at Dato Keramat, on a positive note, we have made progress in other aspects: a lot of infrastructure works have been executed, such as the painting of public housing as well as the upgrading of lifts, water tanks, roofing and etc., and I think we have made a lot of strides in trying to alleviate traffic in the area. Several new products have also emerged in Dato Keramat as well, such as the first digital library in the entire country; they have just done the ground-breaking for the second block.

Steven Sim
Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam

I was at my constituency, and it had been raining the whole day. At around 8pm, while I was at a wake in my area, I noticed something very weird – water was rising in the middle of the road, and that area was not a flood hotspot. By 9pm, I had left the wake, and when it rains this heavily, I would visit all the pump houses – especially at the hotspot areas – to make sure they were functioning well.

My colleague Bernard and I went to Permatang Tinggi because it is a flood-prone area. And while there was no flood there yet, the huge monsoon drain we recently built (which had a 20-year Average Recurrence Interval – the highest volume of rainfall once in 20 years) was already filled to the brim! I sensed that something was very wrong, and true enough, at 11pm I started to receive distress calls, most of them coming from Taman Sri Rambai, calling for rescue.

What was weird was that the traditional flood area, Permatang Tinggi, had not flooded, or was not that much affected. On the other hand, in Padang Lalang, places like Sri Rambai, Sungai Rambai, Desa Damai and Kota Permai, which had not seen floods for the last 10-20 years, were the worst hit.

Sri Rambai is my kampung – I’m very familiar with the area. But that evening, Sri Rambai looked so strange because the lights were out and we really didn’t know where we were going. We were wading in the water in the heavy rain, amid strong wind – it was very, very scary.

I had to call the voluntary fire brigade from Berapit, of which I am a member, and also from Taman Impian, to go to Sri Rambai to help. I was there close to midnight and the situation was almost chaotic – people were rushing out of their houses, the flood water was going up and the storm was still raging. At midnight, I was down in the water at Sri Rambai, working together with my voluntary fire brigade team from Berapit, dragging boats to the rescue, doing whatever we could.

Sri Rambai is my kampung – I’m very familiar with the area. But that evening, Sri Rambai looked so strange because the lights were out and we really didn’t know where we were going. We were wading in the water in the heavy rain, amid strong wind – it was very, very scary.

Most of the floods that we faced in the past 10 years were not on this scale – they were flash floods, meaning they come very fast and recede very fast. The water was probably at road level most of the time, and only in some really bad areas would it go inside the homes. They caused a lot of inconveniences, but not on this scale.

In the past few years, we have built several pump houses (at the Padang Lalang area) as part of the state’s flood mitigation programme. Because of that, there were no longer flash floods. But they were not enough to cater for this freak storm.

One of the reasons why it was so bad was because it happened in areas that people least expected. For example, in Sri Rambai, I estimated that 903 of the cars were gone. People didn’t expect that it would flood that bad, so they didn’t move their cars. And when they realised the danger, it was too late. A lot of cars were stranded in the middle of the road.

Sri Rambai housing is also mostly singlestorey, which means you have nowhere to put your furniture, your belongings, or even yourself. In other areas like Desa Damai, they could go to the second floor, but at Sri Rambai, 903 of the houses are single-storey, so you couldn’t go anywhere. The damage at Sri Rambai was really bad because of that.

We have our mechanisms to deal with flash floods – we activate the relief centres, together with the land district office, and depending on the situation, move people to the nearest relief centre and provide them with food, shelter and amenities, and sometimes monetary assistance for those who are badly affected.

But on November 4, those who were part of the relief team were also stranded in their homes – the fire and rescue brigade, council staff, my own office staff… We were unprepared for this sort of almost total shutdown of the system.

There is a state disaster management programme, but I think the state government needs to relook its disaster mitigation and management programmes in view of climate change as well as any modern-day disasters that we might face. At the same time, we have to understand that the state government does not command the police or the armed forces – and these are two key components in disaster management. The state and federal government – and I think this is relevant throughout the country – need to revisit this issue, because when it comes to mitigation plans or risk planning, you don’t just talk about the normal; you have to deal with the abnormal, the extraordinary.

Steven Sim (squatting in the foreground, in white) offering support to victims sheltering at a relief centre.

MPSP staff cleaning up a side road at Taman Seri Rambai.

What dawned on me during the days following November 4 was that while we cannot prevent natural disasters, what we do afterwards is very important. The state government realised that it had to take quick and immediate effective measures. Within less than a week and after the water subsided, the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) was mobilised to do the clean-up.

But it was just too overwhelming for them. One way to describe the post-flood situation, at Sri Rambai at least, was that it looked as though a tsunami had hit the area. Huge water-soaked furniture were scattered outside, on every single inch and corner of the streets. It was all filled with garbage.

The MPSP had already started going on the second and third days into areas where they could to start cleaning up. And you have to remember – a lot of the MPSP workers were also affected by the floods. We realised that the normal recovery operation would not be sufficient.

On November 9, the chief minister, during the state assembly, announced the state’s post-flood recovery programme, “Penang Bangkit”. It had three aims to deal with the three biggest challenges of the flood: the first was the clean-up work; the second was repairing damaged properties and assets; and the third was replacing that which cannot be repaired. It was a whole recovery package plan.

The weekend immediately after the flood, which was November 11 and 12, was declared Penang Bangkit Volunteer Weekend to mobilise people from within the area and from different parts of Penang as well as Malaysia.

Initially, the clean-up work was very slow because of the volume of garbage involved. My team and I assessed the problem and we realised that the worst-hit area was actually Taman Sri Rambai – so much so that when the MPSP went to clean up, they were overwhelmed by the work and by the need to do it fast.

So we came up with a plan to divide Sri Rambai into four zones; the cleaning-up process would be carried out zone by zone. We tried to maximise our resources and minimise travelling time. Because of our strategy and because of the help we had – I think there were more than 10,000 volunteers who came to Penang that weekend – we managed to clean up the whole place in two days, in what would have taken months!

On Saturday, November 11, we dealt with Zone 1. I put all my resources there – lorries from the council, the private sector, donors and volunteers. By the end of the day, we managed to clear almost the whole area.

We managed to get more than twice the amount of volunteers on the second day. People from all over came, including members of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Merit Society and other voluntary groups. I actually launched a small programme called “Save our Streets”, which we used to call for volunteers. On the first day, I think I had about 400 volunteers; on the second, I had more than 1,000. We cleared out garbage from every single street in the Taman. On the third day, we managed to remove all the garbage from the temporary dumpsite that we had set up.

The state government took the lead in announcing the RM100mil Penang Bangkit programme, which included giving out a direct cash aid of RM700, reducing the water bill, reducing the assessment bill, etc. And by doing that, the state government set an example to the private sector to join in as well, which they did in droves: ride-sharing companies were offering free and discounted rides; electrical companies and furniture shops were involved; doctors came in and gave free treatment for one month. When the state took the lead and planned the whole framework, the private sector was more than happy to come in.

And as we were setting up the programme, we saw people, be they volunteers or from the private sector, coming to offer their solidarity. It was very clear – there were some people who politicised the whole issue and made themselves look ugly, but Malaysians in general came forward and chose to show humanness and solidarity. I saw Muslim women in tudung donning the Tzu Chi vest, doing the volunteer clean-up work. When I asked them why they were here, they said it was because Tzu Chi went to help them in Kelantan. They were repaying that kindness.

There are things that we cannot control, but we can control our response. We bounced back. We won together because we stuck together.

Liew Chin Tong
Member of Parliament for Kluang

Liew Chin Tong (in blue) visiting a flood relief centre with Tun Mahathir Mohamad.

I was awake at 4am and a friend sent me the Facebook link to the chief minister’s live video calling for help, which was broadcast at 3.30am. I know Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng well, and I straightaway knew how serious the situation was from his call. Lim did what a good leader should do during a crisis: see the magnitude of the crisis and communicate it to the public.

I decided to come to Penang from Johor on the evening of the same day to see what I could do to help. I was a member of parliament for Penang between 2008 and 2013, and I personally felt that I should come back to help in such a massive disaster. The national outpouring of public support was really heartening. Everyone wanted to help. Many volunteered, many more donated.

Taking a break from the clean-up work.

Our team mobilised volunteers and raised funds through the DAP’s networks. I visited quite a few sites with former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he visited during the disaster. I also visited some sites on my own and provided some suggestions to the chief minister and state exco member Chow Kon Yeow, who is chairman of the state local government, flood mitigation and traffic management committee, based on my observations during the disaster.

Penang was blessed with speedy recovery from the disaster, with the state government realising the seriousness of the crisis from the start, the outpouring of national solidarity, and volunteerism from all walks of life.

Joshua Woo
Councillor for the Municipal Council of Seberang Perai

A hill made out of debris.

The morning after the water subsided, I went into Taman Sri Rambai – one of the worst hit areas – at 8am. It was like a warzone. Cars and debris were everywhere. There were about 5,000 houses affected; 903 of their belongings were lost.

At our relief centre, which is our District Officer’s office, flood victims were sheltering in the hall. Also there were volunteers from NGOs and charity groups, and the very supportive One Hope Charity organisation, which helped to source for a lot of necessities as well as suppliers and sponsors for food and water. The helpers were there from morning till night. (We needed people to stay at the relief centre overnight because there was so much flood relief material stored there, and there were people who were aggressively asking for them. It was a time of confusion as well – we didn’t know who were genuine flood victims and who were opportunists.)

We were really thankful to receive help from the charity groups, and we had a lot of volunteers who came with their 4x4s, loaded up on food and water, and sent them into the flooded areas. It was quite a mess, but things were under control because of very organic grassroots works, from the bottom up. A lot of private companies, corporations, individual sponsors, religious entities, folks from around Malaysia – people love Penang! – called up and asked what we needed.

MPSP workers scooping debris into a backhoe loader.

I grew up at Taman Sri Rambai. Floods used to happen every year when I was growing up. There was a big flood in 2005/2006, after which new pumps and mitigation infrastructure were constructed. When Pakatan Rakyat took over the state government in 2008, they increased the building of infrastructure, such as pump houses, and widened the drains and etc. For the past 10 years, there had been no floods at Taman Sri Rambai.

In terms of tactics, our local governments have to look into how to handle disasters and not rely on daily routine manpower and machinery and expect them to be able to handle things. We saw that on November 5 – the MPSP was overwhelmed.

The aftermath made me realise that we should try and live sustainably, in that we shouldn’t buy unnecessary things. It led me to question what I truly needed at home. We should also know where to get the nearest help – get in touch with your local state assemblyperson, Village Development and Security Committee, grassroots leaders… Because when disasters happen, that kind of social bond helps us to be resilient.

Julia "Bubba" Tan is deputy editor of Penang Monthly and head of the Publishing Unit at Penang Institute. She is still working on her zombie apocalypse novel.

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