KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 (Xinhua) -- The Malaysian government declared a state of emergency in two southern districts on Sunday as the recent haze shrouding part of the country thickened throughout the weekend.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister G. Palanivel said Prime Minister Najib Razak had agreed to declare emergency status in Muar and Ledang in the southern Johor state with immediate effect.
Muar District Officer Abdul Rahman Muhamed Dewan told a press conference that there is no need for locals to panic as the emergency status is meant to encourage people to stay indoors and does not involve strict security.
According to the air pollutant index released by the Department of Environment, Muar recorded a staggering reading of 746 early Sunday morning.
An air pollutant index of 301 and above would be categorized as "Hazardous."
The historic city of Malacca also recorded "Hazardous" readings of more than 400 by noon.
Cloud seeding operations will be carried out in worst haze affected areas in the country, G. Palanivel said.
In the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, the sky was shrouded by the haze while a smell of burn filled the air early Sunday.
"I have been living in Malaysia for three years, I have never seen this before," said a French diplomat.
Palanivel said later in the day that all schools in Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Selangor state will be closed on Monday as the haze situation worsens by Sunday afternoon. Local governments in several other states have also announced temporary closure of schools.
The haze, an annual phenomenon largely attributable to the smoke from forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia brought in by the southwestern monsoon winds, is especially heavy this year, triggering dangerous air pollutant readings in Singapore and part of Malaysia.
The Malaysian government has called for regional cooperation against the hazardous weather and G. Palanivel is scheduled to travel to Indonesia to discuss the issue.
"I think the haze today is the worst ever," said a Kuala Lumpur resident who took pictures for his children under the landmark Petronas Twin Tower in the city.
"We don't know how long the haze would last, and we hope it would end as soon as possible," he said. "We learnt that the Indonesian and Singaporean authorities are already discussing the issue and we hope we can recover to the days with fresh air and blue sky."