GEORGE TOWN: A soil scientist who accurately predicted last year’s intense floods and landslides in Penang as a result of hill development said today’s landslide at a hill in Bukit Kukus that left two dead, one injured and 10 missing comes as no surprise.
The landslide crashed workers’ cabins at the 5km Paya Terubong Bypass Road, being constructed by the city council and two other private developers at a cost of RM530 million.
Penang Forum steering committee member Kam Suan Pheng said the group had warned the state government and local authorities — twice — over Bukit Kukus and other areas in the state where hills are being cleared.
“We alerted them twice over the Bukit Kukus hillside clearing and the response we got from the state was ‘this is a road and/or infrastructure construction’ and the work is being ‘monitored’.
“If they are monitoring, I am puzzled why such a landslide is happening,” she said when met by reporters at the site Friday.
“I don’t understand. Is infrastructure construction free from compliance? It’s very tragic this landslide has occurred at almost the same area as last week.”
She was referring to last Thursday’s incident, where a crane operator lifting steel plates accidentally hit beams laid on the elevated road, causing 14 beams to roll down the hills. The authorities had then ordered the project to stop, pending a safety audit.
Kam said Penang Forum had earlier sent two reports to the state highlighting the serious cuts on the hills at Bukit Kukus.
Kam said the hills have been cut for the past “two to three years and had been left exposed for a very long time, which is likely why the slope gave way”.
Kam explained the warnings were aplenty. She said the teh tarik-coloured waterfalls during last November’s major floods at the area was one sign that the soil from these cut hills was slowly being transported downwards to the streets and drains, weakening the cut slopes.
She said the authorities had only kept covering the cut hills with plastic or tarpaulin sheets. These would tear over a short period of time and were later replaced.
Kam said this was an exercise in futility as the hills could continue to lose stability over time as they were being exposed to the elements.
The NGO had launched the Penang Hills Watch (PHW) initiative, crowdsourcing platform that allows the public to report any hill clearing by submitting pictures and the location.
She said they had submitted hill-clearing reports to the state government, the local authorities (MBPP and MPSP), but the answer had always been the same — they are being monitored (“dalam pemantauan”).
“It is time for the authorities to pay more attention and take action to protect hill slopes. Now, as you see, it has again cost lives.”
A year ago, another landslide at the Tanjung Bungah construction site had buried 11 construction workers.