GEORGE TOWN - Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng called for a state inquiry into a landslide that killed three people and left 11 missing at a housing construction site on Saturday (Oct 21).
Thousands of tonnes of earth slid down from a cut slope at Lengkok Lembah Permai in Tanjung Bungah, George Town, at about 8.30am.
During a visit to the site, the chief minister said he will put the proposal for formal inquiry to the state executive council for consideration next week, the Malay Mail Online reported.
"A normal investigation will not suffice for this tragedy, so I will propose a state inquiry... that is similar to the inquiry held for the incidents at the second Penang bridge and the Menara Umno previously," he said.
The state set up a commission and conducted public inquiries into the collapse of a section of the ramp leading to the Second Penang Bridge and the failure of a structure at Menara Umno along Macalister Road in 2013, said the report.
On Saturday, the bodies of two Bangladeshis and one Myanmar national were pulled from the debris, while two other workers escaped with light injuries.
"Now the problem we are facing is we need to excavate a 35m heap of earth. We have deployed a K9 unit with three dogs to search for victims," Penang Fire and Rescue Department Director Saadon Mokhtar said.
Most of those trapped were believed to be foreign workers from Indonesia and Bangladesh, including Rohingyas, he said.
One Malaysian, the construction site supervisor, was believed to be buried as well, according to Reuters.
The Star Online quoted Saadon as saying the earth was washed down from a height of 35m.
Penang Island City Council Mayor, Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif, said: "We don't know what caused the landslide yet. But it cannot be due to wet weather. It has not been raining for days on the island."
Prime Minister Najib Razak has expressed sadness over the incident via Twitter.
"Saddened with the landslide in Tanjung Bungah. Hoping that the search and rescue efforts will be carried out smoothly, let us pray together," Datuk Seri Najib said in the Twitter post.
A stop-work order has been issued on the construction site until the search and rescue is completed.
The New Straits Times (NST) quoted a foreign worker as saying the incident happened very quickly. "I was operating the crane when suddenly the earth caved in,'' he said. "There was hardly time to do anything."
Tanjung Bungah Residents Association (TBRA) Chairman Meenakshi Raman demanded that the state government set up a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) to investigate the cause of the landslide, NST reported.
"Let us stop this once and for all. Enough is enough!" she said. "Why should innocent lives be (taken) at the expense of development?"
She said whenever civil liberties groups comment on the hill slope developments, which they say caused flash floods, the Penang government would brush them aside, calling them "irrational."
"But look at what has happened!" she was quoted as saying.
Supporting TBRA's call for RCI was Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), which called on the Penang government to improve existing guidelines on hill slopes, according to The Star Online.
SAM President S. M Mohamed Idris said the non-governmental organisation had written to authorities several times, asking them to stop hillside developments. They also issued warnings that hill slopes are fragile ecosystems that shouldn't be interfered with.
"And now, we are really shocked that the lives of many have been sacrificed. We support TBRA's call for an urgent RCI," he added.
The construction is for the Granito@Permai affordable housing project at Jalan Lembah Permai, the Malay Mail Online reported. The development consists of a 49-storey building with two towers and 12 levels of car parks.
It has 980 units for sale at below RM400,000 (S$128,664) and was listed as an affordable housing project.
Property Guru website listed Granito @ Permai as the latest development by BSG Property, the property development arm of Boon Siew Group. The company has a wide-ranging portfolio of businesses spanning across the Asia-Pacific region in sectors such as automotive, healthcare and hospitality.
Malaysian Insight reported that residents in Tanjung Bungah had in the past complained of over-development in the area, particularly on the hill slopes.
The residents had expressed fear that the large-scale clearing of the hills for development projects had led to soil erosion, which could mean landslides, according to the report.
Tanjung Bungah Residents' Association Chairman Renji Sathiah reportedly said that the hill developments were a "disaster waiting to happen".