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Tuesday December 10, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday December 10, 2013 MYT 7:00:53 AM
Easy does it: Zaman (middle) gesturing as little Nur Hamidah is rescued.
TWO decades after the Highland Towers tragedy, former federal CID chief Tan Sri Zaman Khan Rahim Khan is still hoping to meet the baby girl who miraculously escaped unscathed.
“She came out without a scratch. I wish I could meet this lucky girl,” said Zaman, who was at the scene in the afternoon of Dec 11, 1993.
Nur Hamidah Najib, who was 18 months old then, and her mother Umi Rashidah Khoruman, 22, were among the first three people to be pulled out alive from the rubble.
The third was a Japanese woman, Shizue Nakajima, 50, who later died in the hospital from her injuries.
Zaman said he was with other rescuers when Nur Hamidah was brought out from the rubble and remembered crying in joy when she was handed to him.
“When I showed the baby to the crowd there, everybody cheered and clapped,” he recalled in an interview at his office in Jalan Ampang from where the two remaining blocks can be seen.
Zaman said the emergency services then were unprepared for a disaster of such magnitude.
“It was the first accident of its kind in the country. We were never trained to face this type of disaster and we lacked people and equipment.”
Nevertheless, he said, there were organised efforts by police, firemen, the army and groups like Red Crescent and St John Ambulance as well as building contractors who loaned their heavy equipment.
Even a group of gold miners from Sg Lembing was brought in to tunnel into the rubble.
“Everybody chipped in to help. A big contractor from Ampang volunteered heavy vehicles. Some came from as far as Johor Baru,” he added.
By the third day, there was talk that the search should be stopped but Zaman disagreed, saying it must be continued for the residents’ sake.
“Those families needed a closure so I felt we must do our best to locate the survivors. When we face this type of tragedy, we should not rush to end rescue efforts. It is better to have a longer search,” he said.
A total of 48 bodies were recovered by the time search and rescue operations were called off days later.
Reflecting his handling of the operation, Zaman said he did not have to take charge as it was outside of his job scope of criminal investigation.
“I went there as a police officer and I assumed responsibility because I was the most senior one there.”
“We should not wait to be called upon in times of disaster. We should help immediately,” he added.
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