KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia, southern Thailand and parts of the Philippines have been battered by heavy rain and flash floods in recent days, killing dozens, officials said on Tuesday.
Malaysia’s worst flooding in a decade forced nearly a quarter of a million people from their homes, officials said, with the government coming under renewed fire for its perceived slow response.
The National Security Council said that “exceptionally high” water levels had cut off rescuers from relief centers as the death toll rose to 21 across the northeast. Fifteen people have been killed in neighboring southern Thailand.
Most criticism was directed at Prime Minister Najib Razak for his absence as the disaster unfolded after being photographed playing golf with President Barack Obama in Hawaii.
“No matter how prepared we are, there will always be a bigger and more devastating disaster that tests the capability and resources of the country,” the council said in a statement to the online news portal, the Malaysian Insider.
Opposition member Tony Pua denounced the government’s reluctance to declare a state of emergency and its “complete lack of urgency” in calling a council meeting.
“We are running a headless government with no urgent, cohesive and proactive response to the arising chaos,” Pua said in a statement.
Northeastern Malaysia and southern Thailand are hit by flooding during the annual northeast monsoon but this year the rain has been particularly heavy.
Malaysia’s eastern states are home to many rice fields but officials have not provided an initial estimate of damage.
Five southern Thai provinces - Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani, Phatthalung and Songkhla - were still flooded. Nearly 10,000 people have been evacuated.
A tropical storm has dumped heavy rains and brought flash floods and mudslides to the central and southern Philippines, parts of which were battered by two recent strong typhoons, killing 16 people.
Five people died when a mudslide buried a house in Tanauan town in Leyte, the province hardest hit by super typhoon Haiyan which left more than 7,000 dead or missing in November last year.
Indonesian rescuers searching for a missing AirAsia plane carrying 162 people pulled bodies and wreckage from the sea off the coast of Borneo on Tuesday after the plane went missing in bad weather on Sunday on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
Reporting By Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah in KUALA LUMPUR and Kaweewit Kaewjinda in BANGKOK; Editing by Praveen Menon and Nick Macfie