Disaster zone: An aerial view of the recent landslide in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.
An aerial view of the brown water flowing into the sea from Sungai Kelian.
GEORGE TOWN: Nobody knew a natural disaster was waiting to happen until Sungai Kelian in Tanjung Bungah turned brown and silty.
The sudden profusion of laterite mud flowing out to sea was caused by a landslide even bigger than the one that killed 11 people at a Tanjung Bungah construction site last year.
But it was so far uphill – 231m above sea level – that Penang Island City Council (MBPP) had to use a drone to find it.
As it was a natural landslide, residents are now worried about the fragility of slopes in the Tanjung Bungah hill range and want tighter scrutiny on the many development projects slated for their neighbourhood all the way to Batu Ferringhi.
MBPP issued a statement on Sunday after discovering the landslide on Bukit Batu Ferringhi, in the forest reserve about 1.5km uphill of a disused Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) intake station.
PBAPP chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa clarified that the station had not been in use since 1999, after the Teluk Bahang Dam was completed.
An MBPP engineer said the landslide was about 40m long and 20m wide, but geo-technical experts were unable to reach the site to determine what happened because there are no jungle trails to reach it.
A group called Nelayan Tanjung Tokong shared a video on Facebook last Thursday, showing the russet brown water flowing into the sea from Sungai Kelian and expressed concern.
Tanjung Bungah Residents Association chairman Meenakshi Raman said it was worrying because the landslide happened without any human disturbance.
“It shows the hills in the vicinity are ecologically fragile, and we don’t want any untoward incidents to happen again.
“We hope the authorities will tell us what is being done to prevent further landslides,” she said yesterday.
Former Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu said he knew the area well and believed that the landslide took place near the source of Sungai Kelian.
“I have always stressed on how sensitive the hill slopes here are. There are many underground springs in the hills,” he said.
State Works, Utilities and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the landslide happened in the middle of a forest reserve and experts need time to study the slope to understand how it gave way.
He gave an assurance that the mud washing down the river would clear up in due course without long-term damage.
Zairil also stressed that no development had been approved near the landslide area.
“The state government’s guidelines on hill slope development are tighter than those used by the Federal Government. We will not approve developments without proper compliance,” he added.
Penang Drainage and Irrigation Department director Mohd Azmin Hussin said that it would be difficult to transport machinery to the source of the landslide for mitigation works.
“There are no access roads and the team will have to hike to the site,” he said. – The Star