Heartwarming Relief for Fire Victims

On June 8, 2019, a fire broke out in Kampung Baru, Karamunting in Sandakan, Sabah at 2 pm, resulting in significant damage. Tzu Chi volunteers arrived at the site of the incident on June 15 to extend relief to the fire victims by distributing relief supplies and financial aid, besides conveying their sincere condolences.

Tragedy struck at Kampung Baru, Karamunting, a village located 8 km away from Sandakan, Sabah, when the Muslim community was revelling in the festive Raya celebrations. A fire spread through the village, its trajectory propelled by strong gusts of wind. The blaze destroyed 30 houses, resulting in 61 households losing their homes in its wake, leaving 281 people homeless.

The fire raged on uncontrollably, prompting immediate action by the District Fire and Rescue Department, local police, Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd personnel and members of the Malaysian Civil Defence Force in conducting emergency rescue operations. The Karamunting Volunteer Firefighting Squad and local villagers also contributed to the fire rescue efforts in the hope of minimizing the damage.

Following the incident, the District Fire and Rescue Department released an official statement noting that two female casualties sustained burns on 10 percent of their bodies, while another casualty suffered breathing difficulties. All three casualties were rushed to the hospital for immediate treatment. The villagers were understandably shaken by the tragedy, as this was the second fire incident to befall Karamunting in the same year.

Meeting the victims’ needs

The State Minister of Health and People’s Well-being and State Assemblyman of Tanjung Papat, Datuk Frankie Poon Ming Fung; the Assemblyman of Elopura, Calvin Chong Ket Kiun; and Elopura Development Officer, Peng Zhi Hoa, visited the site of the incident to survey the aftermath. In addition, the Welfare Department supplied three days’ worth of sustenance to the affected families.

Tzu Chi volunteers were dispatched to the site the following day to assess the situation upon receiving news of the incident. The village was in ruins, with houses razed to the ground, leaving only scorched pillars and zinc panels. It was a devastating sight.

The volunteers arrived at the site of the incident to discover scorched ruins of the houses gutted by the fire. [Photograph by Wong Shew Fun]

From their interactions with the victims, the volunteers learnt that the majority of villagers in Kampung Baru are bumiputeras, who live in wooden houses built on stilts above the sea. As such, the fire spread easily. Some of the victims were resettled in Surau Ar-Rahman, the local mosque that has been converted into a temporary evacuation centre, while others chose to seek shelter at their relatives’ homes.

The volunteers managed to obtain a list of the victims’ names from the Welfare Department on June 12, followed by an emergency meeting to discuss disaster relief plans that same night. It was decided that the affected families would each receive cash relief and eco-blankets. On their way to the village on June 15, the volunteers noticed that the villagers were already waiting in groups outside Surau Ar-Rahman. Without further ado, the volunteers unloaded the tents, eco-blankets and other relief supplies before setting up the distribution area in front of Surau Ar-Rahman. The relief distribution session commenced soon after.

The volunteers distributed eco-blankets and cash relief to the victims. [Photograph by Wong Shew Fun]

The master of ceremonies introduced the villagers to Tzu Chi’s four core missions and the origins of the bamboo bank, informing them that the financial aid distributed was accumulated from donations solicited from the public, with the hope that the cash relief would be valued by the beneficiaries. The volunteers later invited the villagers to contribute to the bamboo bank in the spirit of charity. The latter responded positively to the movement and donated their spare change to perpetuate the cycle of kindness.

The volunteers solicited bamboo bank donations from the fire victims in the spirit of charity. [Photograph by Wong Shew Fun]

The volunteers also conveyed Master Cheng Yen’s words of consolation to the victims and led them in praying for a peaceful world free of disasters. The distribution session ended with a lyrical sign language rendition of the song “We Are Family”, reflecting Tzu Chi’s conviction in the spirit of compassion that transcends geographical borders, race and religion.

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Calamities and disasters abound in this world. We will only be prepared to mitigate them by cultivating mindfulness, spiritual piety and blessings. Let us cherish every opportunity to contribute to charitable causes in order to foster a harmonious society.

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