Sunday, 28 December 2014

Friends In Need

Of late, the official as well as social media have been flooded with images of severe floods throughout large portions of Peninsular Malaysia. Sabah has also been hit, albeit to a lesser extent.
It is heartening to note that the 4X4 fraternity have been among the first to help. It is common knowledge that many 4WD vehicles, being engineered for operation in rugged terrain, have an advantage in coping with floodwaters, compared with ordinary saloon cars.
A typical 4X4 is taller by design because this gives better ground clearance, a useful trait when traversing uneven ground. Of course, there are also occasions when the 4X4 may have to ford shallow streams in going about its business.
There are, of course, the videos and photos from the Camel Trophy years back in the 1980s and 90s, showing Land Rovers soldiering on gamely with their drivers sitting in chest-deep water.
So, it is easy to believe, as many people do, that 4X4 vehicles can go anywhere, any time.
I hate to dent this image because I really like it (the image) but the reality is, they do have limitations, and it is important to know these limits. It could be a matter of life and death.
A typical 4X4 off the showroom floor has an advantage of a few inches, maybe 50mm to 100mm, over the typical family car. An upgraded expedition vehicle, a la Borneo Safari special, may have another 10 inches (254mm) or so of extra clearance, thanks to lifted suspension, oversized tyres, snorkel (or raised air intake) and better waterproofing of some components.
But, before plunging literally into the deep end of real-world floodwaters, it is worth considering that many of the places now afflicted by the year-end deluge are under many METRES of water. Entire houses have been submerged.
Roads that are normally clearly marked and visible are now completely hidden under a shroud of murky water, with strong currents thrown in for good measure. There is no distinguishing the roads from the drains alongside, or other potential submerged hazards. There's no telling whether the roads are even still there, or have been partially or wholly swept away.
I am not telling any owner of a 4X4 to not go and help. Far from it, I am applauding those who are in a position to assist the less fortunate, and are willing to go and help.
What I am urging is for everyone to exercise caution. A 4X4, however well prepared and upgraded, is still not a boat but an air-breathing machine that needs to keep its wheels on solid ground.
"Be careful" is what I am saying. Don't venture alone to areas that you are not familiar with, go in a group that can help one another, preferably with locals to guide the way.
As you drive along dry tarmac and come upon a flooded stretch, you'd need to know how deep the deepest part of that stretch is. It usually starts off shallow because you are on high ground that is sloping downwards.
From the few centimetres of water initially, it progressively gets deeper. The deepest part may be half a metre, or a metre or three metres. It would be a bad idea to find out it's the latter when you are deep in it. Turning back may be difficult to impossible.
If you are eager to answer the call to help, make sure you and your vehicle are well prepared.
You should be familiar with your vehicle and how to operate all of its systems. If you don't know how to put it into 4H or don't know the difference between 4H and 4L, it is not a good idea to start learning when there is water lapping your bonnet.
At the very least, travel with someone you know for sure is experienced in driving in difficult conditions, and learn as much as you can before you get to the flooded areas.
Bear in mind that deep water is not the only hazard in the flooded areas. Constant and heavy rain can also cause landslides and roads can collapse with little warning. Even the trained professionals are not spared.
From the photos and videos circulating on social media, it is evident that life is not going on as normal. Petrol stations have been submerged so make sure you carry a sufficient supply of extra fuel for your vehicle.
Top up your tank and any extra jerry cans you have BEFORE you get to the flooded areas. Fuel is likely to be in short supply because all the locals will also be desperate to obtain fuel from a reduced number of outlets. You are there to help, not become a burden by needing rescue yourself.
Ensure you have an ample supply of extra food, drinking water and warm clothing for yourself and other volunteers in your car. The usual checklist of must-bring items for a week-long camping trip might be a good idea.
You cannot count on the usual standards of hospitality in a disaster area and, again, you do not want to become a burden on already scarce resources.
Communications are essential, and the usual cellular network may not be functioning in some areas. It is best to have long-range two-way radios. Whether VHF, UHF or HF, these may be the only way to contact the outside world once you are there. Prior preparation is essential, find out who can be reached on which frequencies.
It is not my intention, nor am I qualified, to write a manual on operating a 4X4 in flood relief missions, just sharing a few concerns and thoughts that came to mind.
Sarawak is not, fortunately, affected by floods that are any way as severe as those in other parts of the country so my buddies and I are not urgently needed. Hopefully, if the alarm is raised, we will be ready to answer the call.
Take care and stay safe.

That road you are familiar with, that you've driven on hundreds of times, may no longer be there, at least not in the shape you knew it, when it is submerged by floodwaters. - Pic by The Star Online.