A landslide killed at least 16 people, among them children, as they slept in their tents at a campsite in Malaysia on Friday, officials said, as search teams scoured thick mud and downed trees for more than 20 people still missing.
The landslide in Selangor state bordering the capital, Kuala Lumpur, occurred before 3 a.m. (1900 GMT), tearing down a hillside into an organic farm with camping facilities. Among those killed were three children and 10 women, according to the fire and rescue department.
The cause of the landslide was not immediately clear and there had been only light rain in the area.
Camper Teh Lynn Xuan, 22, said one of her brothers was killed and another was being treated in hospital.
“I heard a loud sound like thunder, but it was the rocks falling,” she told Malay-language daily Berita Harian.
“We felt the tents becoming unstable and soil was falling around us. Luckily, I was able to leave the tent and go to someplace safer. My mother and I managed to crawl out and save ourselves.”
The disaster struck about 50 km (30 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur in Batang Kali town, just outside the popular hilltop area of Genting Highlands, known for its resorts, waterfalls and natural beauty.
Pictures posted on the Father’s Organic Farm Facebook page show a farmhouse in a small valley, with a large area where tents can be set up.
There were 94 people caught in the landslide but 61 were found safe, with 17 still missing, according to the Malaysia National Disaster Management Agency.
Eight people were hospitalised, including a pregnant woman, while others had injuries ranging from minor cuts to a suspected spinal injury, health minister Zaliha Mustafa told a news conference.
District police chief Suffian Abdullah said the dead were all Malaysians, including a child about 5 years old. Close to 400 personnel were deployed for the rescue mission, he said.
PRAYING FOR SURVIVORS
The landslide came down from an estimated height of 30 metres (100 ft) above the campsite, and covered an area of about one acre (0.4 hectares), according to the fire and rescue department’s state director.
Local television footage showed the aftermath of a large landslide through a steep, forested area beside a road, while images on social media showed rescue workers clambering over thick mud, large trees and other debris.
“I pray that the missing victims can be found safely soon,” Malaysia’s minister of natural resources, environment and climate change, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, tweeted on Friday. “The rescue team has been working since early. I’m going down there today.”
All campsites and water recreation areas around Batang Kali were ordered to close immediately, news agency Bernama tweeted, citing the home affairs minister.
Selangor is the country’s most affluent state and has suffered landslides before, often attributed to forest and land clearance.
Landslides are common in Malaysia, but typically only after heavy rains. Flooding occurs often, with about 21,000 people displaced last year by torrential rain in seven states.
Leong Jim Meng, another camper, said he did not expect a landslide as it there had been only light drizzle in recent days.
“My family and I were trapped when the soil covered our tent,” he told Berita Harian. “We managed to run to the parking lot and called the authorities. They arrived quite quickly, about 30 minutes later.”