Row of homes in Malaysia declared 'disaster zone' as residents flee massive craters in ground

SHAH ALAM (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - An entire row of homes in a suburb in Shah Alam, capital of Selangor state, Malaysia, has been declared a "disaster zone" and a dozen families have been ordered to evacuate the area after a landslip triggered massive craters in the ground.

Measuring up to half a metre, the holes appeared behind the row of homes in Section 7, Shah Alam as a 100m-long retaining wall toppled over, resulting in cracks appearing in the houses.

Fearful residents who packed up and left to stay in a hotel spoke of the earth moving under their feet and the sound of water gushing under their floors.

Housewife Marziah Mahmud, whose house was the worst-hit, said she felt movements on the floor and heard the sound of water underneath it during a downpour two days ago.

The place was declared a "disaster zone" by Petaling district officer Mohd Misri Idris at about 10pm on Thursday.

Ms Marziah said this wasn't the first time residents felt unsafe.

"We've been threatened by a sinking ground since 2012," she said, adding that the Residents' Association had even taken legal action and discussed compensation with the developer and the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS).

"The occupants of the first and second homes next to mine moved out several years ago," said Ms Marziah.

"The others have nowhere else to move to," added the 43-year-old, saying that her porch sank with cracks on the floor and wall.

A check at the two unoccupied houses found that the gaps and cracks were equally as severe as those at Ms Marziah's home.

Ms Marziah, who has been living with her parents, husband and three children at the double-storey house since 2008, said many residents were unhappy with PKNS' offer of compensation.

"PKNS should factor in the future values of our properties when offering us total buyout or temporary rental options. We are literally forced to move out.

"It is really upsetting that the houses got worse," she added.

Another resident, who only wanted to be known as Vijay, said that the land had been a swamp before it was turned into a housing estate.

"The heavy rain over the past few days just made things worse," said the 42-year-old.

Mr Hairudin Tumiran, who was helping his sister Khuzaita pack, said the family's safety was top priority.

Mr Hairudin, who was busy tying up the children's clothes in large garbage bags, said the family would be staying at a hotel in Seksyen 9, while looking for a place to rent.

"What to do, the family's safety is at the top of our minds," said Mr Hairudin.

"Better be safe and move out now. We will get a lorry to collect the larger items later," he added.

Ms Khuzaita, a single mother, has four daughters aged between six and 15.

Three other families are staying put, for different reasons.

Mr Khairul Rashid Abdul Hamid, 39, does not want to stay at a hotel because his wife just delivered a premature baby boy.

"My baby is still weak and is barely three months. My two other boys are having their school exams, so I don't want to upset their school schedule."

However, he said he had already packed his things and is ready to go.

Mr Dvidass Sebastian, 69, claimed he was turned away from the hotel assigned to the family. He was informed they could not cater for his family of eight.

Last night, he was all alone in the house. The family was at church for Good Friday prayers.

"I am leaving it to God to take care of my family of eight and my neighbourhood," he told The Star.

"I am not blaming the hotel since they don't have any more rooms," said Mr Sebastian, a private tutor.

Both families have been there for a decade. Mr Sebastian's porch had caved in, while Mr Khairul Rashid's house had visible cracks.

Electricity supply is still available but the area is under tight security with the presence of the police and fire engine.

Meanwhile, another houseowner, Ms Khuzaita Tumiran, who moved into the hotel yesterday with her four daughters, was devastated.

Ms Khuzaita said the back of her house had caved in and she was scared to go back.

"There is a big hole in the floor, and I am afraid the house will collapse.

"I am lucky my eldest daughter helped me to pack as I have to take care of the other children," she said.

PKNS is looking into ways to help the families who have been living along the "disaster zone".

State housing executive committee member Iskandar Abdul Samad said PKNS wanted to resolve the problem permanently.

He said the corporation already agreed to pay for the temporary lodging of affected residents while the damage to their property was addressed.

For now, the families have been placed at a hotel in Section 19, Shah Alam.

Datuk Iskandar said they still could not determine how long remedial works would take or the costs involved.

He said there were suggestions to relocate the residents and fix the problems even earlier this year when a similar incident occurred.

"There were several suggestions to remedy the problem, including buying back the properties, moving the residents and conducting earthworks, among others, but we could not carry these out," he added.

Mr Iskandar, however, declined to comment on the residents' response to the suggestion.

Meanwhile, Selangor Fire and Rescue Department personnel are on standby at the site should any further emergency occur.

There were a number of residents and owners who moved in and out of the neighbourhood to collect their belongings before moving out completely.

"We are not so involved in disaster recovery, as that falls under the Shah Alam council and the developer," said state Operations Centre head Amerhaizal Sahak.

He said the Fire and Rescue personnel would also leave the area once it had been cleared of residents.

The Shah Alam City Council has issued a seven-day stop-work order against a nearby development while it investigates the cause of the landslip.

It will hold another technical meeting tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Associate Professor Tajul Anuar Jamaluddin, who teaches geology, said the incident was due to "improper ground compaction" during the early stages of construction, and could not be labelled as a "sinkhole" as geologically, a sinkhole was closely related to limestone, which is not present here.

"This is clearly ground settlement," he said yesterday. "Ground settlement is a common incident in projects built on former swampy areas."

Some residents claimed that the land was a swampy area prior to being turned into a housing estate some 10 years ago.

Prof Tajul said developers should have, prior to any construction, removed all feeds and organic materials from a swampy area, backfilled and compressed the earth before construction began.

"If the feeds and organic material are not removed, they will deteriorate over time and cause ground settlement," he added.

Asked if there was any way to rectify the situation, Prof Tajul said a relatively new technology of injecting chemical underneath the ground for it to expand and move up to cover the gaps was viable.

However, he was unsure if the technology was available in Malaysia.

"Such ground improvement method is possible in this case, instead of tearing down the houses and rebuilding them," he said.

"But the cost could be inhibitive."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.