IPOH - The occupants of three houses in Kampung Pengkalan Gate Tambahan 2 in Lahat near here woke up to find sinkholes appearing in their midst yesterday.
The biggest of the sinkholes, which measured 3.5m wide and 5m deep, appeared between two houses and looked to have narrowly missed one of the houses in the 30-year-old neighbourhood.
G. Sandaran, 64, who is the owner of one of the houses involved, said the sinkholes started to appear at 3.30am while his family was asleep.
"At first, I heard a loud sound, like branches being broken.
"When I went outside to check, I saw a large hole between my house and my son's house next door.
"His house was badly affected. The sinkhole appeared closer to his house than mine.
"He lost his Honda Wave motorcycle, furniture and other belongings, which fell into the sinkhole."
Sandaran, who is a retired Ipoh City Council staff, said two rooms in his house developed cracks on the wall and floor.
Part of the house is slanted towards the sinkhole.
He said it was fortunate that his son's family was sleeping over at his house at the time, as the family had earlier gathered to hold prayers for his late wife, M. Rajamah, 61, who died six days ago.
There were 12 family members, including five children, in Sandaran's house at the time of the incident.
A third house, which was not as badly affected as the other two, developed cracks in its structure.
Its owner, P. Prem Kumar, 39, and five family members rushed outside to check after hearing the sound of things breaking.
Village chief Nasrudin Putih said the affected families had been moved to the village's Kemas (Community Development Department) community hall, where they would stay until further notice.
He said it was the first time sinkholes appeared in the village, but added that such incidents had occurred in nearby villages and housing estates.
"The neighbourhood used to be a tin-mining area.
"There is always the risk of sinkholes appearing out of nowhere.
"Still, no one expected this to happen early in the morning.
"I am thankful that no lives were lost."
Pasir Putih fire station chief Zainasree Zainal said the three houses had been declared unsafe for occupation.
He said the Welfare Department would look into the needs of the families, while the Fire and Rescue Department would monitor the area in case more sinkholes appeared.
He said the relevant government departments, including the Mineral and Geoscience Department, had been roped in to investigate the cause of the sinkholes and to determine the level of danger they posed.
At least five other sinkholes appeared metres away from the biggest one.
They appeared on an empty plot of land opposite the houses.