Landslide in Malaysia camp kills at least 21; Victims found “hugging”
A thunderous crushing of earth and debris killed 21 people at a camp in Malaysia on Friday, and rescuers dug through the mud overnight searching for 12 others feared buried in the landslide.
More than 90 people were sleeping on an organic farm when dirt fell from a road about 100 feet above the site, covering about 3 acres. Two of the dead were found embracing, according to the head of the state fire department.
Authorities told local media that the owners did not have a license to operate a camp. At least seven people were hospitalized and dozens more were rescued unharmed, district police chief Suffian Abdullah said.
Leong Jim Meng told the English-language New Straits Times that he and his family woke up to a loud bang and felt the earth move at the camp in Batang Kali, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the capital. from Kuala Lumpur.
“My family and I got trapped when dirt covered our tent. We managed to escape to a parking area and heard a second landslide,” the 57-year-old said. He said it was surprising because there had been no heavy rain in the past few days, just light drizzle.
Veronica Loi, who was camping at the site overnight and survived the landslide, told AFP that her family was sleeping when they heard a sudden loud sound.
“We saw that the tent next to us had completely disappeared,” he said.
It is currently the monsoon rainy season in Malaysia, and the country’s government development minister Nga Kor Ming said that all camps across the country that are close to rivers, waterfalls and hillsides would be closed for a week to assess their security.
The Selangor State Fire Department posted photos of rescuers digging through the dirt and rubble with an excavator and shovels. Authorities said the debris is believed to be 8 meters (26 feet) deep. More than 400 rescuers and sniffer dogs will work through the night to find the dozen people still missing.
Selangor State Fire Chief Norazam Khamis was quoted by the Free Malaysia Today news portal as saying two of the bodies found were “embracing” and believed to be mother and daughter. The fire department said five children were among those who died.
An estimated 450,000 cubic meters (nearly 16 million cubic feet) of debris, enough to fill 180 Olympic-sized swimming pools, hit the camp, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, the minister of natural resources, environment and climate change, told local media.
Suffian, the district police chief, said the victims entered the area, a popular recreational site for locals to pitch or rent tents on the farm, on Wednesday. The camp is not far from the Genting Highlands mountain resort, a popular tourist destination with theme parks and Malaysia’s only casino.
After visiting the site on Friday night, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced a special payment to the families of the dead and survivors.
Nga told local media that the camp has been operating illegally for the past two years. The operator has government approval to operate an organic farm, but does not have a license for camping activities, he said. If he is convicted, Nga warned, the camp operator could face up to three years in prison and a fine.
The farm where the camp was located, “Father’s Organic Farm,” changed its Facebook profile picture to all black on Friday.
The government has imposed strict rules regarding development of the slopes, but landslides have continued to occur after bouts of bad weather.
In March, four people died after a massive landslide triggered by heavy rain engulfed their homes in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.
In one of the deadliest such incidents, a massive 1993 landslide triggered by heavy rain caused a 12-story residential building on the outskirts of the capital to collapse, killing 48 people.
AFP contributed to this report.