Sunday, 22 May 2011

16 killed in landslides at Malaysian orphanage

Muslims recite prayers beside coffins of victims who were killed in Saturday's landslide during a funeral prayer at a mosque in Hulu Langat in centralAP – Muslims recite prayers beside coffins of victims who were killed in Saturday's landslide during a funeral …

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Two landslides that hit a Malaysian orphanage killed 15 boys and one adult but nine people survived, police said Sunday after a nearly 15-hour rescue mission ended.

District police chief Abdul Rashid Wahab said the bodies of 15 boys, aged 8 to 18, and a 34-year-old caretaker had been recovered. Six boys and three wardens who were critically injured in the landslides have been hospitalized, he said.

Medical officers had to amputate the leg of one of the boys at the site after he was pulled out due to a severe injury that caused incessant bleeding, health ministry official Azmi Shapie said.

Abdul Rashid said the last rescued victim, a 9-year-old boy, was pulled out nearly eight hours after tons of earth crashed through the orphanage for ethnic Malay Muslim boys in a sleepy village in central Selangor state.

Though it wasn't raining when the landslides occurred Saturday afternoon, wet weather in the past few days was the likely cause, he said.

The 25 people buried by the landslides were among 49 who were attending a motivational camp at the orphanage, he said. Most of the boys were orphans, but details were still unclear.

"They just had lunch at the tent by the side of the house when two landslides apparently occurred seconds after each other," Abdul Rashid told The Associated Press. "The tent collapsed, burying 25 people as they did not have time to escape."

Mohamad Hambali Ismail, a warden at the orphanage, told local media that the children were preparing to receive visitors when the earth shook.

"I heard a loud noise. Suddenly the earth was chasing me. I had to run to save myself," Hambali, 34, told the Malay-language Berita Harian newspaper.

A heavy downpour after the landslides hampered rescue operations by some 200 firefighters, police and others.

Abdul Rashid said rescuers had to dig through 14 feet (4 meters) of sludge using their hands and equipment, and that the last body was retrieved nearly 15 hours after the landslides.

A small stream runs near the orphanage, a huge three-story house at a foothill in the semi-rural village. The house was partly damaged and several tall trees fell due to the landslides.

Several houses near the orphanage were evacuated amid concerns of further landslides, Abdul Rashid said.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is on a working visit to the United States, ordered an immediate investigation into the incident. Najib was quoted by the national news agency, Bernama, as saying the government would rebuild the orphanage and give financial aid to the victims' families.

"I am saddened by the tragedy. ... Hopefully, the government's contribution can help ease the burden of the victims' families," he said.

Najib said he would visit the site of the landslides as well as families of the victims when he returns to the country Tuesday.

The Selangor state government ordered an investigation into the safety of hillsides in the area.

Several landslides have caused damage in the country's largest city, Kuala Lumpur, and surrounding areas in recent years. They are usually blamed on rapid development, deforestation and poor maintenance of drainage systems.

The worst landslide occurred in 1993 when a 12-story condominium block collapsed, killing 48 people.