Sunday 22 October 2017

Four dead and ten missing following landslide at construction site in Penang State, Malaysia.

Four workers have been confirmed dead, two more have been injured, and another ten are missing following a construction site in George Town, the capital of Penang State in northeast Peninsula Malaysia, on Saturday 21 October 2017. The names of the dead men have not been released, but three of them have been identified as Bangladeshi nationals. All of the workers at the site are understood to have been male, with the majority having been Bangladeshi or Indonesian nationals, along with a Pakistani, a Rohingya, and a single Malay, identified as Yuan Kuok Wern, 27, the site supervisor. The are where the men were working is reported to be covered by a layer of mud and debris up to 35 m deep, which covers an area of about 160 m². Rescue efforts are being led by specialist search teams equipped with sniffer Dogs.

Onlookers watching rescue operations at the scene of the 21 October 2017 George Town landslide. Lai Seng Sin/Reuters.

The incident happened at about 8.50 am local time, when a 10 metre section of hillslope collapsed onto the construction site. The cause of the event is as yet unclear, but the area has been suffering an exceptionally wet rainy season, with numerous floods and related occurrences. Landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Malaysia has become increasingly landslip-prone in recent years due to extensive deforestation, which leaves soil exposed to heavy tropical rainfall. Concerns have also been raised about the large number of construction sites on steep hillslopes in urban areas, where workers are particularly vulnerable to landslip events during the rainy season.

Penang has suffered a series of weather-related incidents this rainy season, including the worst flooding in fifteen years and a series of landslides. The state has a wet tropical climate with two distinct rainy seasons (common close to the equator, where the Sun is highest overhead around the equinoxes and lowest on the horizons around the solstices). These run from April to May and September to November, with peak rains in September and October.

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