Malaysian teams search for people missing after deadly landslide

Ray Sherman, Nisha David and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
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Malaysian teams search for people missing after deadly landslide Members of the Special Tactical, Operation and Rescue team and other enforcement agencies conduct a search-and-rescue operation at the site of a landslide in Batang Kali, Selangor, Malaysia, Dec. 16, 2022.
[Photo courtesy National Disaster Management Agency]

Rescuers were still searching late Friday for a dozen people missing after a landslide swept through unlicensed campsites at a farm north of Kuala Lumpur and killed at least 21 people, including children, officials said.

Seepage from intermittent rain showers in the previous days may have weakened the soil, causing thick sludge, stones, trees and other debris to tear through and bury the site, a geologist told BenarNews. 

The landslide occurred around 3 a.m. at Batang Kali in Selangor state, near the family entertainment park Genting Highlands, where 94 campers, including school children and teachers, were reportedly spending some time during the school holidays.  

“The landslide occurred at a slope near the Father Organic Farm and swept off the campsites. The rescue mission is still in progress to find the 12 who are still missing,” the Selangor Fire and Rescue Department said in a statement on Friday night.

“The Selangor Fire and Rescue Department is being assisted by other agencies in the search-and- rescue operation.”

A survivor of the landslide is seen at the Ulu Yam police station in Batang Kali, Selangor, Malaysia, Dec.16, 2022. [ S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

The disaster prompted Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail to order a freeze on all outdoor recreational activities around Batang Kali. According to him, the landside completely destroyed two of the three campsites on the farm.

“Nearby camping areas have also been urged to stop receiving visitors until further notice,” Saifuddin told the media.

A survivor, who only wanted to be identified as Chong, told reporters that he heard a loud explosion-like noise before tons of earth came crashing down onto the campsite.

Soon after, the 28-year-old from Malacca said he heard cries for help from a woman before he spotted her half-buried body – with her hands and feet jutting out – in the mud.

Chong and a friend then dug through the soil with their bare hands to free the woman and her child.

A survivor of the landslide is seen at the Ulu Yam police station in Batang Kali, Selangor, Malaysia, Dec.16, 2022 [ S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Geologist Nor Shahidah Mohd Nazer, from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said it had not rained heavily right before the landslide, but the night before it and in the days preceding the tragedy.

“But the water accumulated from the rain in the preceding days or weeks could have caused high precipitation in the soil,” she told BenarNews.

“This could have caused a slip plane, which is capable of moving large volumes of soil far distances. … These factors, coupled with just a little bit of water, are capable of turning a slope to behave in a devastating manner, as what we have just witnessed.”

Members of a search-and-rescue team survey the landslide location at Batang Kali, Selangor, Malaysia, Dec. 16, 2022 [ S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

On Friday evening, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim visited the site of the landslide and announced compensation for the families of those killed and the surviving victims.

Landslides on the roads leading up to the popular Genting Highlands have been a recurring problem over the last 30 years due to widespread forest clearing activities, experts have said. 

Friday’s was the worst landslide since one that killed 16 people, including 13 students of a religious school in Hulu Langat, Selangor, in May 2011.


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