18 killed after landslide engulfs campsite in Malaysia

A landslide hit an organic farm in Batang Kali, Malaysia (FL Wong/AP)
A landslide hit an organic farm in Batang Kali, Malaysia (FL Wong/AP)

A thunderous crush of soil and debris has killed at least 18 people at a campsite in Malaysia as rescuers dug through the dirt for another 15 who were feared buried in the landslide.

Two of the dead were found locked in an embrace, according to the state fire department chief.

More than 90 people were sleeping on an organic farm when the soil tumbled from a road about 30 metres above the site and covered about one hectare.

Authorities told local media that the landowners did not have a licence to run a campsite. At least seven people were admitted to hospital and dozens more were rescued unharmed, said district police chief Suffian Abdullah.

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 Kuala Lumpur.

“My family and I were trapped as soil covered our tent. We managed to escape to a car park area and heard a second landslide happening,” the 57-year-old said. He said it was surprising because there was no heavy rain in recent days, only light drizzle.

It is currently the season for monsoon rains in Malaysia, and the government’s 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.

The Selangor state fire department posted photos of rescuers with flashlights digging through soil and rubble with an excavator and shovels in the early hours of the morning. More than 400 people as well as tracking dogs were involved in the search-and-rescue efforts.

Fire chief Norazam Khamis was cited by the Free Malaysia Today news portal as saying that two of the bodies found were “hugging each other” and believed to be mother and daughter.

Mr Suffian, 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.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is expected to visit the site late on Friday.

Mr 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 licence for camping activities, he said.

If found guilty, Mr Nga warned the camp operator could face up to three years in prison and a fine.

Some families with young children who were rescued took refuge at a nearby police station. Access to roads leading to the area have been blocked.