Collapse of the Hotel New World

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The collapse of the Hotel New World (Chinese: 新世界酒店坍塌事件; Malay: Tragedi Hotel New World runtuh) occurred on 15 March 1986,[1] and was Singapore's deadliest civil disaster since the Spyros disaster of 12 October 1978.[2] The six-storey building situated at the junction of Serangoon Road and Owen Road rapidly collapsed, trapping 50 people beneath the rubble. Seventeen people were rescued, while 33 were killed.[3]

Background[edit]

Although frequently referred to as the Hotel New World, the building in question was actually known as the Lian Yak Building (联谊大厦), a six-storey building with a basement garage and built in 1971. The Hotel New World, previously known as the New Serangoon Hotel until 1984, was the main tenant occupying the top three floors,[4] and a branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank (now merged with United Overseas Bank) took up the ground level. A nightclub, Universal Neptune Nite-Club and Restaurant, was also situated on the second level of the building at the time of the collapse.[1][better source needed] The building had previously experienced a poisonous gas leak (caused by carbon monoxide) in some of the hotel rooms, first hitting the headlines on 30 August 1975, the day after the poisonous gas leak was reported.[citation needed]

Collapse[edit]

On 15 March 1986, the building rapidly disintegrated in less than a minute at about 11.25 am, leaving little time for anyone within it to make their escape. Witnesses reported hearing an explosion prior to the collapse, but the police ruled out the possibility of a bomb attack. A gas explosion was thought to be a possible cause.[5]

The collapse was met with shock by many, including the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who was quoted as saying that "the collapse of such a building is unprecedented."[6]

Casualties[edit]

Immediately after the collapse, as many as 300 were feared trapped underneath the debris.[7] Estimates dropped to 100 trapped or missing a day later,[8] and then to 60, including 26 hotel staff and 16 bank staff unaccounted for.[6] The figure was finally put at 50 when the official death toll was announced on 22 March 1986 after the end of the rescue effort.[3]

Amongst those killed, 23 were Singaporeans, and the other ten foreigners. A partial list of the deceased persons is as follows:

Deceased Nationality Description
Chew Sau Chun Angelia Singaporean Staff of Industrial and Commercial Bank
Durga Devi Singaporean Wife of Hotel New World watchman
Goh Kong Moh Singaporean Unidentified
Lai Chan Sou Singaporean Hotel New World guest
Lee Hock Boon Singaporean Hotel New World bellhop
Leong May Yin Singaporean Staff of Industrial and Commercial Bank
Ng Cheng Kee Singaporean Mistress of Hotel New World owner
Ng Khong Lim Singaporean Hotel New World owner
Nusret Mohmood Syed Pakistani Hotel New World guest
Nuzhat Hashim Pakistani Hotel New World guest
Png Eng Huat Richard Singaporean Hotel New World staff
Raji Ram Panday Singaporean Hotel New World watchman
Shaharuddin Zakaria Singaporean CISCO police constable guarding Industrial and Commercial Bank
Sit Ah Lak Singaporean Customer at Industrial and Commercial Bank branch
Soh Cheng Thum Singaporean Sub-contractor
Tan Lee Gek Singaporean Staff of Industrial and Commercial Bank
Yong Kum Yip Singaporean Hotel New World chambermaid

Rescue[edit]

After the collapse, many passers-by began to try pulling out survivors. They were soon joined by the Singapore Fire Service (SFS), the Police Task Force of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). A nearby business, Eagle Piano Company, became a centre for the rescue operation.

As there were survivors buried in the rubble, the rescue was a delicate operation. Debris was carefully removed as power saws and drills cut through the rubble.

Sound detectors were used to locate survivors beneath the slabs by picking up faint moans and cries. In the first 12 hours, nine people were rescued. At one time, Lieutenant-Colonel Lim Meng Kin (SAF Chief Medical Officer), along with several other SAF medical officers and two doctors from the Health Ministry, took turns to crawl through narrow spaces inside the rubble in an effort to provide assistance to trapped survivors, giving glucose and saline drips to them.

Tunnelling experts from Britain, Ireland and Japan who were involved in nearby construction for the (Singapore) Mass Rapid Transit, including Thomas "Tommy" Gallagher, Thomas Mulleary, Patrick "PJ" Gallagher, Michael Prendergast, Michael "Mickey" Scott, and Tan Jon Thong, offered to assist.[9] They became concerned the use of heavy machinery would collapse the rubble onto those trapped. Their voluntary efforts, digging 4 tunnels under the rubble, resulted in the rescue of another eight survivors. The tunnelling experts were later honoured by the Singapore government for their efforts. Thomas Mulleary was also nominated for an O.B.E for his rescue work but refused the prestigious honour when the rest of rescue squad were not included.

After the five-day rescue operation, 17 people were rescued, but 33 people lost their lives. The last survivor, 30-year-old Chua Kim Choo, was rescued on 18 March 1986, having survived after hiding beneath a table.[10]

Inquiry[edit]

Many potential causes of the accident were investigated. Surviving sections of concrete were tested to ensure they were to proper construction standards, and it was found that they were. Even the construction work of the underground railway tunnellers who had assisted in the rescue was investigated, even though the excavations were more than 100 yards from the collapsed building. It was found they had no effect on the building's stability.

Also investigated were the various additions made to the building after its initial construction. Air conditioning systems had been constructed on the roof of the building, the bank had added a large safe, and ceramic tiles had been fixed to the building's exterior, all adding considerably to the building's weight. It was found that the weight of these additions was inconsequential.

However, this line of investigation into weight led to the discovery that the original structural engineer had made a serious error in calculating the building's structural load. The structural engineer had calculated the building's live load (the weight of the building's potential inhabitants, furniture, fixtures, and fittings) but the building's dead load (the weight of the building itself) was completely omitted from the calculation. This meant that the building as constructed could not support its own weight. Collapsing was only a matter of time. After three different supporting columns failed in the days before the disaster, the other columns—which took on the added weight no longer supported by the failed columns—could not support the building.[11]

Aftermath[edit]

On 27 April 1986, the Singapore government honoured five individuals for their assistance in rescue efforts, including three from Ireland, one from Britain, and a local.[12] A dinner was also hosted by the Singapore government on 29 April 1986 for SMRT Corporation staff involved in the rescue effort, with the then Minister of Communications and Information, Yeo Ning Hong, as the Guest-of-Honour.

Following this disaster, buildings built in the 1970s were checked for structural faults, and some of them were declared structurally unsound and had to be evacuated, including the main block of Hwa Chong Junior College. The government also introduced tighter regulations on building construction; since 1989, all structural designs are required to be counter-checked by Accredited Checkers.[13] The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) underwent a significant upgrade, in terms of training and equipment, to improve its readiness in performing complex rescue operations.

Five years after the collapse, construction work commenced on the site for a new seven-storey hotel on 28 March 1991. The Fortuna Hotel opened with 85 rooms in 1994.[14]

In popular culture and media[edit]

In 1990, the disaster was reenacted in the Chinese-language television series Finishing Line (出人头地), which was aired on TCS-8 (now MediaCorp Channel 8).

On 25 September 2003, the disaster was featured in the first episode of the second season of the television series True Courage, which was broadcast on TCS-5 (now MediaCorp Channel 5). A Chinese-language version of the series, titled True Courage (逆境勇者), was also on aired on TCS-8.

On 27 September 2005, Seconds From Disaster portrayed the disaster in the episode "Hotel Collapse Singapore". Instead of the actual site, the program used an image of the area around 88 Syed Alwi Road (at the corner of Kampon Kapor Road) as the basis for a computer-generated reconstruction of the building and its collapse. The episode was retelecast in Singapore on 16 September 2007 via StarHub TV.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Hotel New World collapse". Archived from the original on 27 August 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2007.  (Book launch website for: Tommy Koh, ed. (2006). Singapore, the encyclopedia. Editions Didier Millet. ISBN 978-981-4155-63-2. )
  2. ^ Allen Yu-Hung LAI; Seck L. TAN (August 2013). Impact of Disasters and Disaster Risk Management in Singapore: A Case Study of Singapore’s Experience in Fighting the SARS Epidemic (Technical report). ERIA Discussion Paper Series. Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA). Table 1. ERIA-DP-2013-14. 
  3. ^ a b "Singapore Toll Put At 33". The New York Times. 22 March 1986. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  4. ^ Seventh report of the committee: for the two years ending July 1987 (PDF) (Technical report). Standing Committee on Structural Safety. September 1987. p. 13. 
  5. ^ Philip Lee (16 March 1986). "100 still trapped". The Sunday Times. 
  6. ^ a b Crossette, Barbara (17 March 1986). "After 36 Hours, 2 Are Rescued From The Ruins In Singapore". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  7. ^ "300 Trapped as Hotel In Singapore Topples". The New York Times. 15 March 1986. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  8. ^ "6-Story Hotel Collapses In Singapore; 100 Trapped". The New York Times. 16 March 1986. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  9. ^ "Singapore Honors Rescuers". The New York Times. 27 April 1986. 
  10. ^ "AROUND THE WORLD; Singapore Woman Saved After 3 Days in Rubble". The New York Times. 19 March 1986. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  11. ^ "Hotel Collapse Singapore". Seconds from disaster. Season 2. Episode 9. 27 September 2005. National Geographic Channel. http://natgeotv.com/uk/seconds-from-disaster/about.
  12. ^ "Singapore Honors Rescuers". The New York Times. 27 April 1986. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  13. ^ "Update on the Collapse of Roof of School Hall Under Construction at Compassvale Street" (PDF). Building and Construction Authority. 26 June 1999. 
  14. ^ Goh Chin Lian (15 March 2004). "A new world now after hotel collapse" (PDF). The Straits Times. [dead link]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 1°18′42″N 103°51′18″E / 1.311784°N 103.854879°E / 1.311784; 103.854879