Death toll after landslide at Malaysia campground rises to 24 after rescuers find a mother and her son
Rescuers on Saturday found the bodies of a woman and two children, raising the death toll from a landslide on an unlicensed campground in Malaysia to 24, with nine others still missing.
Selangor state fire chief Norazam Khamis told reporters the bodies of a mother and son were found buried under 3 feet of mud and debris. The body of a little girl was discovered later. He said there was hope of finding survivors if they clung on to piles or branches or rocks with pockets of air but that chances were slim.
Authorities said 94 people were sleeping at the camp site on an organic farm early Friday when the dirt tumbled from a road about 100 feet above them and covered about three acres. Most were families enjoying a short vacation during the yearend school break.
The 24 victims included seven children and 13 women. Authorities were still carrying out autopsies and waiting for next of kin to identify the victims.
A mother and her toddler daughter were found Friday hugging each other in a heart-rending scene, rescuers said. Seven people were hospitalized and dozens more, including three Singaporeans, were rescued unharmed.
Wearing helmets and carrying shovels and other equipment, rescuers worked in teams Saturday to comb through debris as deep as 26 feet. Excavators were deployed to clear mud and fallen trees and rescue dogs were sent to sniff out possible signs of life and cadavers. Officials said an estimated nearly 16 million cubic feet of debris — enough to fill 180 Olympic-sized swimming pools — hit the campsite.
Norazam said rescuers were treading carefully as underground water streams may trigger further landslides.
Authorities have said the landowners did not have a license to run a campground. Officials are unable to pinpoint the exact cause of the landslide, which came without warning, but believed it could be due to underground water movement while the yearend monsoon rains made the soil unstable.
Leong Jim Meng told the New Straits Times English-language daily that he and his family were awakened by a loud bang and felt the earth move at the campsite in Batang Kali, around 30 miles north of the capital of Kuala Lumpur.
“My family and I were trapped as soil covered our tent. We managed to escape to a carpark area and heard a second landslide happening,” the 57-year-old was quoted as saying. He said it was surprising because there was no heavy rain in recent days, only light drizzles.
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 the tent beside us was totally gone,” she said.
It is currently the season for monsoon rains in Malaysia, and the country’s government development minister, Nga Kor Ming, said all campsites nationwide that are near rivers, waterfalls and hillsides would be closed for a week to assess their safety.
Suffian Abdullah, the district police chief, said the victims entered the area, a popular recreational site for locals to pitch or rent tents from the farm, on Wednesday. The campsite is not far from the Genting Highlands hill resort, a popular tourist destination with theme parks and Malaysia’s only casino.
After visiting the site late Friday, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced a special payment to the families of those killed as well as survivors.
Nga told local media that the campsite has been operating illegally for the past two years. The operator has government approval to run an organic farm but has no license for camping activities, he said. If found guilty, Nga warned, the camp operator could face up to three years in prison and a fine.
The farm where the campsite was situated — “Father’s Organic Farm” — changed its Facebook profile picture to all black on Friday.
The government has imposed strict rules with regards to hillside development, but landslides have continued to occur after bouts of bad weather.
In March, four people were killed after a massive landslide triggered by heavy rains buried their homes in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.
In one of the deadliest such incidents, a huge mudslide in 1993 brought on by heavy rain caused a 12-storey residential building outside the capital to collapse, killing 48 people.
AFP contributed to this report.
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