A landslide at a campsite in Malaysia has killed 21 and left 12 missing

BATANG KALI, Malaysia (AP) — A thunderous tremor and debris killed 21 people at a campsite in Malaysia on Friday, and rescuers dug through the mud overnight for another 12 who were feared were buried in the landslide.

More than 90 people were sleeping at an organic farm when earth fell from a road about 30 meters (100 feet) above the site, covering about 1 hectare (3 acres). According to the state fire chief, two of the dead were found in an embrace.

Authorities told local media that the landowners did not have a license to operate a campground. At least seven people were hospitalized and dozens more were rescued unharmed, District Police Chief Suffian Abdullah said.

Leong Jim Meng told the English-language daily New Straits Times that he and his family at the campsite in Batang Kali, about 50 kilometers north of the capital Kuala Lumpur, were woken up by a loud bang and felt the earth moving.

“My family and I were trapped when dirt covered our tent. We were able to escape to a parking lot and heard a second landslide,” the 57-year-old was quoted as saying. He said it was surprising because there had been no heavy rain in the past few days, just a light drizzle.

It is currently monsoon rainy season in Malaysia, and the country’s government development minister, Nga Kor Ming, said all campsites across the country that are near rivers, waterfalls and hills will be closed for a week to ensure their safety evaluate.

The Selangor State Fire Department released photos of rescuers digging through dirt and debris with a backhoe and shovels. Officials said the debris was believed to be 8 meters deep. More than 400 rescuers and sniffer dogs are working all night to find the dozen people who are still missing.

Selangor State Fire Chief Norazam Khamis was quoted by Free Malaysia Today as saying two of the bodies found were “hugging each other” and were believed to be mother and daughter. Five children were among the fatalities, the fire department said.

An estimated 450,000 cubic meters (nearly 16 million cubic feet) of debris – enough to fill 180 Olympic-size swimming pools – hit the campsite, Minister for Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad told local media.

Suffian, the district police chief, said victims entered the area on Wednesday, a popular recreation spot for locals to set up or rent tents at the farm. The campsite is not far from the mountain resort of Genting Highlands, a popular tourist destination with theme parks and Malaysia’s only casino.

After a site visit late Friday, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced a special payment to the families of those killed and those who survived.

Nga told local media that the campground has been operating illegally for the past two years. The operator has government approval to operate an organic farm but 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.

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Ng reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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