The siren sounded at midnight on Wednesday. It was a warning to riverside residents in Bertam Valley, Cameron Highlands, to move to higher ground.
Water in the Sultan Abu Bakar Dam in Ringlet, one of the districts in the Malaysian hill resort, had breached the danger level and had to be released to prevent the dam from bursting. This followed heavy rain from 7pm the previous day.
Water gushed down to the houses constructed on the state drainage and irrigation land, The Star reported.
Two foreigners, Bangladeshi Md Jahangir Alam Fazlor Rahman, in his 30s, and Indonesian Kesmat, 46, and a Malaysian died in the flood. The Malaysian, Mr Tan Tuck Choi, 51, died on the way to hospital due to a heart attack, New Straits Times reported.
About 20 families have been evacuated to a community hall.
LOOKING FOR GIRL
Cameron Highlands police chief, Deputy Superintendent Wan Mohd Zahari Wan Busu, said a search-and-rescue team was still looking for a 17-year-old Indonesian girl.
Mr Mohd Zahari said: "The dam water caused the water in the nearby Bertam River to suddenly rise and breach its banks.
"As a result, the water overflowed into at least 80 houses, some 3km away from the dam."
Cameron Highlands Fire and Rescue Services Department chief Yusri Abdullah Sani told liberal news portal Malaysiakini that they were alerted to the casualties at about 1.40am.
He said the first gate of the dam was lifted 20 minutes after the siren sounded. More water was released at 1am, followed by "a full release at about 2.40am".
Teja assemblyman Chang Lih Kang, whose constituency is adjacent to Cameron Highlands, told the news portal: "The villagers complained that the authorities did not give notice before opening the floodgate. They said the authorities only sounded the siren, but the flooding had started by then. Moreover, it was raining and the elderly could not hear the siren."
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