HULU LANGAT – Koranic verses blaring from an orphanage loudspeaker was a daily wake-up ritual for residents of this tiny Malaysian village, but on Sunday there was an eerie silence.
Radzman Abdul Wahab, 25, who is attached to the Civil Defence Department in Kuala Lumpur, said he received the alert at 4.15pm before a team was rushed to the scene yesterday.
“When we arrived, we saw a large mound of earth and mud behind the madrasah and we could see lifeless bodies and hands sticking out from the mud.
“It was heart-breaking to see the young victims but I had to put aside my emotions and concentrate on rescuing those who were trapped under the rubble,” he said.
A landslide swept through the orphanage compound on Saturday, killing 16 people, most of them boys aged eight to 19 who were being cared for at the facility located 26 kilometres (16 miles) south of Kuala Lumpur.
They were rehearsing a drums performance at a tent set up near their dormitory when rocks, sand and mud came thundering down a hill at 2:30 pm (0630 GMT) after days of heavy rains.
As part of their daily routine, the boys would wake up early and recite the Koran – Malaysia is a mainly Muslim country – and their readings reverberated across the valley through a loud speaker.
During a visit by an AFP reporter on Sunday, residents of an area lined with concrete bungalows and fruit trees were still coming to grips with the tragedy.
“We are saddened by the death of the boys. I’m still traumatised by the cries that I heard,” said Kamarul Zaman Yaacob, 44, who rushed to the scene after getting a call from a friend.
“I saw someone covered by the earth, I could only see his head. I heard some of the victims crying for help and after a short while, there was silence,” he told AFP.
“We could not do so much, there were lots of rocks and sand.”
Another resident, Mohamad Azam, 38, said he was alerted by his mother-in-law about the incident.
“I rushed to the orphanage, I saw some victims, some of them were still alive. Many were screaming in pain and asking for help,” he said. “We managed to pull out two people. We are shocked and saddened by this incident.
“We liked the boys, the would come and play the ‘kompang’ (a Malay drum) and sing songs whenever there was a function in the village, we’re going to miss them, they were part of our family.”
Zairul Asyraf, 17, one of the boys at the orphanage said he was about to walk from the dormitory to the tent when the landslide roared down.
“I heard screams asking for help. I was shocked and I tried to help pull my friends out. I managed to pull out two of my friends,” he said.
“I like this place very much, my friends are great. I’m prepared to stay here despite this tragedy,” said Zairul, who lost his mother at a young age and does not know where his father is.
Resident Ramli Jafar, 59, said that when his son got married five years ago, the boys from the orphanage came over and played the drums.
“It breaks my heart to know that this had happened to them,” he said.
Another local, Ishak Abdul Majid, 56, was also mourning.
“This valley is now swept with gloom and silence. We used to hear Koranic verses early in the morning. This morning, there was was total silence.”