09 December 2008

One missing after four die in Malaysia landslide

By Varsha Tickoo

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian agencies were still searching for one person on Sunday in the wake of a landslide near the capital that killed four people, forced thousands out of their homes and cut electricity supplies.

The landslide struck in an affluent suburb north of Kuala Lumpur early on Saturday morning, flattening 14 houses. It happened just over a week after two sleeping sisters were killed by a mudslide nearby and after two other slides in the capital.

Some residents packed their belongings into cars and headed for temporary housing as the rubble was being cleared, while others struggled to get supplies to their families after tents were set up to distribute emergency supplies.

"We had to use a small little path to come out. It's all blocked," said Ngu Siong Ho, 52.

"Our cars and everything are trapped inside. We are considering to go and stay with a friend," he said.

Shifting earth temporarily halted the search effort which the police said had involved a thousand emergency personnel on the 10 acre site in Selangor state near Kuala Lumpur.

"We have stopped work right now because there is earth movement and it is not safe," Selangor police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a press briefing on the site.

State electricity company Tenaga Nasional said in a statement that progress restoring power had been slowed due to rain and earth movements and that four of 16 transformers the slide affected had been put back online. State news agency Bernama reported 1,500 houses were without power.

Green campaigners have repeatedly criticised the building of houses on the steep forested hills near Kuala Lumpur. When the opposition won Selangor in March's election it banned construction on slopes with more than a 25 percent incline.

Construction has boomed in recent years in the state, the most affluent in this Southeast Asian nation of 27 million people.

The worst disaster was in 1993 when 48 people died in the collapse of a tower block on a site 1.5 kilometres from Saturday's slide.

Action by the federal government has not materialised however, and developers continue to apply pressure to build.

"Even as recent as last month, developers were insisting that they had the right to develop hill slopes and some had told a couple of ExCo (state executive council) members that they were planning to sue us," Elizabeth Wong, a Selangor state executive council member in charge of environmental matters, said on her website (http://elizabethwong.wordpress.com/) on Sunday.

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