Sultan views 'disaster' drill
By Sonia K and Zaim Zaini

The sounds of the rotating blades of choppers echoed around Temburong as His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam arrived at Ulu Belalong yesterday morning and consented to visit a "landslide affected area" to oversee the rescue operation.

It was part of the "Hikmah Bersatu 2" exercise announced by the Natural Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) Monday night.

The exercise depicted a scenario where a landslide occurred at 8.10pm Monday night at Ulu Belalong Park, Temburong resulting in 78 deaths, 115 injured, 37 saved and 20 missing as of 4.30pm yesterday. The situation was made worse as bad weather caused a power blackout and telephone lines were cut off at the affected area.

Heavy showers and strong winds engulfed the whole of Brunei and the rain reduced visibility to below 0.5 km.

Immediate actions were taken when government officials heard about the "disaster".

They declared a state of emergency at the local level and mobilised the Fire and Rescue Department, Royal Brunei Armed Forces and Royal Brunei Police Force to conduct immediate evacuation and search and rescue operations in the affected areas.

The Natural Disaster Management Centre was convened to mobilise and coordinate emergency response and relief assistance of government agencies, local and civil societies. Yesterday morning, government agencies intensified their search and rescue efforts at the "landslide area" in Ulu Belalong Park.

An official opening ceremony for the exercise was attended by Pehin Datu Lailaraja Major General Dato Paduka Seri Haji Awg Halbi bin Haji Mohd Yusof, Commander of Royal Brunei Armed Forces.

At 4.30pm yesterday, the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) informed that they have deployed 62 personnel at Ulu Belalong and 88 personnel at Bangar Police Station to assist in the investigation, and control of traffic and crowd.

On top of that, 50 medical personnel have also been assigned to assist in the operation, including 33 personnel stationed at Ulu Temburong and 17 at Bangar. The personnel were brought by eight Fast Assault Boats (FAB).

During the "disaster", two main bridges - Kampong Bokok and Kampong Senokoh - had collapsed. Besides, several houses at Kampong Senokoh, Labu, Selangan and Batang Duri were also severely damaged.

The rescue team also ensured that victims from the affected areas were taken to safer buildings. Most of the victims were sent to the nearest hospital for further treatment.

Supply of clean water also reached the affected areas while officials said they had enough food to last for one more day. However, communication and power supply are still cut off, thus a generator was used as an alternative with satellite uplink as a mode of communication.

The agencies involved in the rescue mission are working relentlessly in trying to save and find the missing victims. (7th February 2007)