A thunderous crush of soil and debris has killed 21 people at a campground in Malaysia as rescuers dig through the mud in the night for another 12 who are feared buried in the landslide.
More than 90 people were sleeping on an organic farm when the dirt tumbled from a road about 30 metres above the site and covered about one hectare.
Two of the dead were found locked in an embrace, according to the state fire department chief.
Authorities told local media that the landowners did not have a licence to run a campground.
At least seven people were hospitalised and dozens more were rescued unharmed, district police chief Suffian Abdullah said.
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, about 50km north of the capital of Kuala Lumpur.
“My family and I were trapped as soil covered our tent. We managed to escape to a carpark area and heard a second landslide happening,” the 57-year-old was quoted as saying.
He said it was surprising because there was no heavy rain in recent days, only light drizzles.
It is currently the season for monsoon rains in Malaysia, and the country’s government development minister, Nga Kor Ming, said all campsites country-wide 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 digging through soil and rubble with an excavator and shovels.
Officials said the rubble is believed to be eight metres deep.
More than 400 rescuers as well as tracking dogs are set to work through the night to find the dozen people still missing.
Selangor state 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.
The fire department said five children were among those who perished.
An estimated 450,000 cubic metres of debris – enough to fill 180 Olympic-sized swimming pools – hit the campsite, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, the environment minister, told local media.
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.
After visiting the site late on Friday, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced a special payment to the families of those killed as well as survivors.
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, Nga warned, the camp operator could face up to three years in prison and a fine.