Malaysia landslide death toll rises to 24, 9 more missing

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Rescue teams continue the search for victims caught in a landslide, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Batang Kali, Malaysia. A landslide Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, at a tourist campground in Malaysia left more than a dozen of people dead and authorities said a dozen of others were feared buried at the site on an organic farm outside the capital of Kuala Lumpur. (AP Photo Vincent Thian)

BATANG KALI, Malaysia (AP) — 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 a meter (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 30 meters (100 feet) above them and covered about 1 hectare (3 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 8 meters (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 450,000 cubic meters (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.

Survivors recounting their ordeal told local media they heard a thunderous noise and felt the earth move before soil collapsed on their tents. The government has ordered all campsites nationwide that are near rivers, waterfalls and hillsides to be shut for a week to assess their safety.

The campsite in Batang Kali, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, is a popular recreational site for locals to pitch or rent tents from the farm. But authorities said it has been running illegally for the past two years. It has permission to run the farm but no license to operate camping activities. If found guilty, the operator faces up to three years in prison and a fine.

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