KL-Pahang highway closed for clean-up works after mudslide

A portion of the main highway linking Kuala Lumpur to the eastern state of Pahang remained closed to traffic yesterday as the authorities worked to clear mud, rocks and trees that had swept across the highway's four lanes on Wednesday evening.

The mudslide occurred during a heavy downpour at the 52.4km marker along the Karak highway, not far from the Bukit Tinggi area. Four vehicles and a trailer were hit by debris but no fatalities were reported.

Anih Berhad, the highway's concessionaire, said in its official Twitter account that clean-up works were expected to take two days and all lanes in the affected stretch, from the town of Genting Sempah to the Bentong toll plaza, will be closed to users until further notice.

According to Works Minister Fadillah Yusof, the highway will likely remain closed until tomorrow and the police will give their approval before the lanes are reopened, The Star reported.

Datuk Seri Fadillah was not immediately able to confirm whether the mudslide had been caused by any logging activities in the nearby Lentang Forest Recreational Park, which would be illegal as it is a forest reserve. "However, the fact that logs were washed out in the landslide could mean forest clearing was being done deeper in," he said, as quoted by The Star.

But Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid, who conducted an aerial survey of the immediate area in a helicopter, said overflowing of a water catchment area was the cause of the mudslide.

He told The Straits Times that heavy rain on Wednesday had caused the water catchment area to be waterlogged and overflow onto the highway, bringing with it mud, rocks and uprooted trees.

"The problem is there was too much water on top of the hill and the soil could not absorb the quantity of water. There is still too much water in the area. We have to find a way to let the remaining water flow elsewhere; it is like opening a dam," he said, adding that 70 personnel had been despatched to the scene for clearing works.

Environmental group Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka) yesterday disputed the statement made by Datuk Soiman, claiming the mudslide was due to rampant logging inside the Lentang Forest Recreational Park. The group's president, Ms Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, said it had observed illegal logging activities following the building of a passageway by Malaysian energy provider Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) from Bentong, Pahang, to Lenggeng, Negeri Sembilan to the south.

"Lentang is a primary forest reserve and a water catchment area; there should be no logging activities. When trees and roots are removed, there is no absorption of the water and the soil becomes loose and rains would flush it down.

"Our members have entered the area and we have seen the destruction; there is no buffer zone even near the river. Whoever is doing the illegal logging even threw logs into the river," she told The Straits Times. She added that the group had sent protest letters to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry as well as the state government since early last year but there has been no response or enforcement so far.

In response to Peka's claims, Pahang Chief Minister Adnan Yaakob said the mudslide was a natural disaster, The Star reported.

Datuk Seri Adnan said there were no logging activities carried out on top of the hill near the mudslide area and he explained that previous land-clearing activities done for a TNB project were some 1.2km away from the site and had been completed a few months ago.

He also said he was shown aerial photographs by the police and had been informed that the mudslide was due to slope failure.

S'pore-Genting bus services not affected

Bus services from Singapore to Genting are still running despite the landslide along Karak highway that happened on Wednesday evening.

Five bus operators here, including Aeroline Express, KKKL Travel and Tours, and Grassland Express and Tours, told The Straits Times that there have been no reports of delays or disruptions to their Singapore-Genting bus services.

Some operators received calls from concerned travellers, but there were no cancellations after they assured the callers that it was business as usual.

Karak Highway is the main highway linking Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan in Pahang. The landslide happened along the highway not far from the Bukit Tinggi area, several kilometres from Genting Highlands, a popular destination for Singaporeans.

There were traffic snarls in both directions yesterday as all lanes around the area were closed. According to The Star, traffic from Kuala Lumpur was diverted into the Genting Sampah exit on the highway, while traffic from Kuantan was diverted out at the Bentong exit.

The buses either took alternative routes, or travelled on parts of the Karak Highway that were still accessible.

"Our buses usually take the North-South highway before turning into the Karak Highway. But the landslide mostly prevents access to the east coast near Pahang, and roads towards Genting are still open," said Mr Steven Chew, 41, operational manager at Grassland Express and Tours.

They are monitoring the situation, he added.

This article was first published on Nov 13, 2015.
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