Highland Towers collapse
The Highland Towers collapse was an apartment building collapse that occurred on 11 December 1993 in Taman Hillview, Ulu Klang, Selangor, Malaysia. The collapse of Block One of the apartments caused the deaths of 48 people and led to the complete evacuation of the remaining two blocks due to safety concerns. On 11 December 2010, coinciding with the seventeenth anniversary of the incident, AETN's History Channel showed an hour-long documentary on the tragedy, with accounts from the victims, their families and former residents.
The Highland Towers consist of three 12-storey blocks, built in phases between 1974 and 1982 at the western base of a steeply sloped hill which was later terraced extensively in the early 1980s. Each block was respectively named:
- Block 1 (built 1977, southern-most)
- Block 2 (built 1979, north-northwest of block 1, slightly elevated than the other two, closer in to the hill)
- and Block 3 (built 1981, northwest of block 1, west of block 2).
A swimming pool was located between northwest side of Block 2 and northeast rear of Block 3. Block 1 collapsed after 10 continuous days of rainfall led to a landslide after the retaining wall behind the Tower's car park failed.
The towers were home to affluent middle-class families; a sizeable percentage of the residents were expatriates. The Highland Towers were notorious in the 1980s and early 1990s for being a popular spot for the wealthy people to hide their mistresses.
Cause of structural failure
Behind the Towers was a small stream of water known as 'East Creek'. East Creek flowed into the site of the Towers before the Towers' construction, so a pipe system was built to divert the stream to bypass the Towers.
In 1991, a new housing development project, known as 'Bukit Antarabangsa Development Project', commenced construction on the hilltop located behind the Towers. The hill was cleared of trees and other land-covering plants, exposing the soil to land erosion that is the leading factor of causing land slides.
The water from the new construction site was diverted into the existing pipe system used to divert the flow of East Creek. This overloaded the pipe system and water, sand and silt from both East Creek and the construction site infiltrated the pipes. The pipes burst at several locations on the hill, and the surrounding soil had to absorb the excessive water. The monsoon rainfall in December 1993 further worsened the situation.
The water content in the soil became over-saturated to the extent that the soil had turned viscous, in effect becoming mud. By October 1992, the hill slope had been saturated with water, and water was seen flowing down the hill slopes and the retaining walls.
Shortly thereafter, a landslip took place and destroyed the constructed retaining walls. The landslide contained an estimated 100,000 square metres of mud – a mass equivalent to 200 Boeing 747 jets. The soil rammed onto the foundation of Block One, incrementally pushing it forward. After a month of this constant pressure, the foundations snapped and in November 1993, residents began to see cracks forming and widening on the road around the Highland Towers, a forewarning of collapse. Unfortunately, there was no further investigation before Block 1 collapsed on 11 December 1993.
Victims who were killed
The official death toll released by the authorities was 48, though other sources gave a number greater than 55. The victims are mainly Malaysians, with 12 foreigners (a Briton, a Japanese, 2 Indians, 2 Koreans, 3 Filipino and 3 Indonesian). Among the victims were Carlos Abdul Rashid (son of former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam) and his wife, Rosina Datuk Abu Bakar.
- Rohana Bano Mushtak Ahmad, 29
- Mohammad Budi Abdullah, 44
- Mohammad Adam, 6 months
- Carlos Abdul Rashid (son of former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Musa Hitam) and his wife, Rosina Datuk Abu Bakar.
- Korean woman, Bahk Jung Soon, 45, and her daughter Bahk Hee Won.
- Koh Yuet Met
- Gene Koh Wai Keong, 15
- Brandon Koh Wai Hong, 6
- Daryl Koh Wai Kin, 3.
- Yap Kien Seng, 18.
- Yap Woei Ning
- Yap Hsiao Mei, 18 and her mother – Wong Mee Thai, 35
- Datin Milly Lee, 55
- Teo Tea
- Ong Yong, 53
- Douglas Ong Tee Ming, 17.
- Fatimah Abdul Majid, 66
- Che Mariam Abdul Majid, 76
- Noranira Mohamed Nor, 15
- Nik Mohamed Baharuddin, 41
- Shizue Nakajima, 50 (rescued alive, died in hospital)
- Dr Anne George,
- Debbie George
- Sharon George
- Majnawiyah Masnawi, 25
- Amirah Nor Hamzah, 15
- Fergus Phang Thien Liang, 26
- Phang's mother, Ivy Lim Ai Bee
- Phang's grandmother, Cheng Kim Tai
- Trimah Ngarijo
- Yusna Anuar
- Farah Aruzi
- Lee Mun Lin
- Tony Lou Yoke Yong
- Adrian Lou Chung Wei
- Barry Lou Ka Wei
- Sajjive Chandran
- Prakash Chandran
- Radha Chandran
- Quah Li Jun
- Chiew Poh Wah
- Goh Fong Kiew
- Judith Mosquiter
- Suharti Kusban
- Aribinda Datta
- Rita Datta
Rescuers heard knocking and voices right up to the seventh day after the collapse. Only three people, including an infant, were pulled out from the rubble alive, and only within the first 24 hours. One of them died later in hospital.
Chronology of events
- October 1992
- Water began to flow down the hill slopes due to the flooding caused by the burst pipes.
- November 1993
- Cracks began to form and widen on the road leading to the towers.
- 11 December 1993: Block 1 of the Highland Towers collapses at 1.35 pm.
- 124 members of the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) and about 30 military personnel and engineers from Batu Cantonment Camp and Wardieburn Camp are deployed for search and rescue. Hundreds of policemen, firemen and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) rescue teams, Malaysian Red Crescent Council volunteers arrived earlier.
- Rescue team spots somebody waving a stick. A maid of one of the residents at Level 7, Umi Rashidah Khoruman, 22, and her daughter Nur Hamidah Najib, 18 months are found.
- Shizue Nakajima, 50, a Japanese woman was also pulled from the debris but pronounced dead at 12 midnight in Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL). Dr Abdul Wahid Shahrum from HKL stated Nakajima suffered severe internal bleeding.
- Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and many cabinet ministers visit the site.
- 12 December: Residents of Block B and C of Highland Towers are ordered to vacate their homes after declaring unsafe. Search and rescue teams from Singapore, France, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States arrived in Malaysia to help. Nuri and Alouette helicopters from the RMAF were also despatched.
- 13 December: A team from France with two rescue dogs joins the operation. They use heartbeat detectors to search for survivors and digs a 4.5-meter hole for access. A Committee Cabinet is established specifically to deal with problems relating to the Highland Towers tragedy.
- 15 December: Rescuers find six bodies. Four are believed to be of two Koreans and two locals. Rescue teams decides to use machines to break concrete and steel as well as bulldozers to remove debris to open a route.
- 16 December: Umi Rashidah and Nur Hamidah are released from HKL.
- 17 December: The Cabinet Committee agrees to abandon rescue efforts.
- 18 December: Rescue teams find six more bodies including one child.
- 19 December: Rescue teams find three bodies. One of a woman, located about eight meters inside the parking area, was found at 7 p.m. The second body, also a woman, was found near the first body at 8.30 p.m. while the third, a man, was found at 10.15 p.m. in the night.
- 20 December: So far, 25 corpses, including one who embraced the Qur'an found in Level 12 are discovered. Also found were the remains of a woman wearing a sari and shielding a child.
- 21 December: The police confirms that 48 bodies were recovered from the Highland Towers debris.
- 22 December: The search is ended. Dr Nik Hassan Nik Ramlan is appointed chairman of the Technical Committee of Investigating the Highland Towers tragedy.
Legacy and recent history
In November 2002, almost nine years after the incident, a bungalow belonging to Affin Bank chairman General (Retired) Tan Sri Ismail Omar collapsed due to a landslide. It was located just metres away from the towers.
On 11 December 2004, in conjunction with the eleventh anniversary of the tragedy, all former residents and victims of the Highland Towers gathered at the site as a final farewell, after knowing that the property will be transferred to AmBank.
Later, on 6 December 2008, just five days short of the 15th anniversary of the incident, another landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa took place just 1.5 kilometres away from Highland Towers. The landslide buried 14 bungalows. All these incidents occurred late in the year, at the height of the northeastern monsoon season when heavy rainfall is common.
After the tragedy, The Highland Towers memorial stone was placed at the site of Block 1, but it was a victim of much vandalism. The abandoned Blocks 2 and 3 of the Highland Towers still stand as of July 2014, but they have been the site of much vandalism and the buildings are now in complete disarray and near ruin. In 1998, five years after the tragedy, a team from the Court in charge of the lawsuit visited the Towers and found out all contents of its tower (e.g. balcony grill/window glasses) have been stripped off, leaving it just a naked structure. Drug addicts are known to use the abandoned apartments for temporary shelter.[original research?]
The Highland Towers had been a popular source of haunted stories in the years since the collapse, as a result of the tragedy.
Plans of redevelopment
There were plans to repair the two remaining blocks and re-occupy them back in 1995, but inspection revealed that the blocks were no longer structurally safe and demolition was the only option.
- Structural failure
- Taman Hillview bungalow collapse (2002)
- Taman Hillview
- 1986 Hotel New World collapse in Singapore
- Lawyerment.com.my (1996) The Highland Towers Judgment – Civil Suit No. S5-21-174-1996. Retrieved 17 February 2005.
- Navaratnam, Rajendra (2002). Implications of the Highland Towers Judgment in Relation to the Duties of Building Professionals in Malaysia. Retrieved 17 February 2006.
- The Highland Towers Disaster (in English). Singapore: History Asia. 11 December 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2010.