Landslides are defined as a massive mass of soil and rock debris that move downhill because of the action of gravity. The sheer mass of material involved and the speed at which they occur make them potentially disastrous as a consequence because of the extensive damage they can cause to property and lives.

Lanslides in Malaysia

The earliest recorded landslide in Malaysia occurred on 7 December 1919 which claimed 12 lives (Jaapar A. R., 2006). After the country gained independence in 1957, the first national tragedy was a landslide at Ringlet, Cameron Highlands which occurred on 11 May 1961. About 700 people and two bulldozers came to assist and approximately 30 people were rescued. This tragedy, however, claimed 16 lives.

The Highland Towers Tragedy on 11 December 1993 that claimed 48 lives had a major impact on national policy. It was due to this landslide that on 18 May 1994 the Cabinet Meeting made a decision to:

• Form the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART).

• Form a mechanism under the National Security Council (MKN) in the Prime Minister’s Department for the management of disasters on land.

The highest fatality recorded for a single landslide event, was on 26 December 1996 where a debris flow caused by Tropical Storm Gregg wiped out a few villages in Keningau, Sabah and claimed 302 lives.

Signs of slope failures and landslides


Sign of landslides


  • Bulging ground appears at the base of a slope or retaining wall.
  • Water appears at base of slope.
  • Tension crack at the ground surface
  • Detachment of soil at toe of slope
  • Hummocky ground
  • Erosion at slope surface
  • Underground utility lines break.
  • Water breaks through the ground surface in new locations
  • Fences, retaining walls, utility poles, or trees tilt or move.
  • Cracks appear on the slope
  • Small stones fall
  • Water unexpectedly gushes out from a slope
  • Water from a slope suddenly becomes muddy

Landslide Alert Around Your House

  • Cracks appear on the ground or in the foundation of houses, buildings and other structures
  • Soil moving away from foundations.
  • Structures such as decks and patios tilting and/or moving away from the main house.
  • Broken water lines and other underground utilities.
  • Springs, seeps, or saturated ground in areas that have not typically been wet before.
  • Tilting or cracking of concrete floors and foundations.
  • Doors or windows stick or jam for the first time.

 Sign of Landslides

  • A faint rumbling sound that increases in volume is noticeable as the landslide nears.
  • Unusual sounds, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together, might indicate moving debris
  • Rapid increase in creek water levels, and water may become cloudy
  • Sudden decrease in creek water levels though rain is still falling or just recently stopped.
  • The river water becomes muddy or suddenly includes driftwood from the trees above

After a landslide, you should:

  • Stay away from the slide area. There may be danger of additional slides. Listen carefully for cracking sounds from trees or debris falling down the scar surface of the slope. Stay back from the slide area.
  • Check for injured and trapped persons and animals near the slide, without entering the slide area. Direct rescuers to their locations—the window of opportunity for survival is generally estimated at two hours.
  • Help people who require special assistance—infants, elderly people, those without transportation, large families who may need additional help in an emergency situation, people with disabilities, and the people who care for them. Take them to a relief or operations centre where they can be cared for.
  • Listen to local stations on a portable, battery-powered radio or television for the latest emergency information.
  • Watch for flooding, which may occur after a landslide or debris flow. Floods sometimes follow landslides and debris flows.
  • Look for and report broken utility lines to appropriate authorities. Reporting potential hazards will get the utilities turned off as quickly as possible, preventing further hazard and injury. Be especially careful of live electricity cables which may come into contact with water from flooded areas.
  • Check your home’s foundation and surrounding land for damage.
  • Listen out for instructions from the On-Site Commander or your Relief Centre representative on evacuation, food delivery, road access, and resumption of basic services.Secondary landslides may occur due to instability of the ground caused by the first landslide, so don’t assume that you are out of danger. Listen for broadcasts issued by the police.