Nor Hisham Mohammad, director of the operations division at the fire and rescue department, told reporters that “as of 1 pm (0500 GMT), 16 victims have died. The search now is focused on the remaining 17.”
According to Nga Kor Ming, the local government development minister, 61 people so far have been found safe after the predawn landslide near the town of Batang Kali, just outside the capital Kuala Lumpur and near a mountain casino resort.
Veronica Loi, who was camping at the site overnight and survived the landslide, told AFP that her family was sleeping when they heard a sudden, loud sound.
“We saw the tent beside us was totally gone,” she said.
Hundreds of government personnel including police and rescuers were seen at the gates leading to the campsite compound, while an excavator was seen entering the area from the main road.
The farm where the campsite was situated — “Father’s Organic Farm” — changed its Facebook profile picture to all black on Friday.
Nga said the “campsite is operating without a licence,” and that the operators would be punished if found guilty by the court.
Videos and photos circulating online showed large fallen trees and crushed vehicles, as well as search and rescue personnel wearing headlamps and digging with shovels, and searching for survivors by a fallen structure.
Landslides are common in Malaysia after heavy rains, which are regular at the end of the year. However, there were no heavy rains recorded overnight in Batang Kali.
The government has imposed strict rules with regards to hillside development, but landslides have continued to occur after bouts of bad weather.
In March, four people were killed after a massive landslide triggered by heavy rains buried their homes in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.
In one of the deadliest such incidents, a huge mudslide in 1993 brought on by heavy rain caused a 12-storey residential building outside the capital to collapse, killing 48 people.